China defends bounties offered for Hong Kong dissidents abroad

China has defended controversial cash bounties offered for Hong Kong dissidents who have fled abroad that have been heavily criticized by foreign governments and human rights groups

Via AP news wire
Friday 15 December 2023 09:18 GMT

China on Friday defended controversial bounties offered for the capture of Hong Kong dissidents who have fled abroad that have been heavily criticized by foreign governments and human rights groups.

Rewards of 1 million Hong Kong dollars ($128,000) have been offered for information leading to the capture of 13 opposition figures accused of violating the semi-autonomous Chinese city’s sweeping National Security Law.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said China rejected the outside criticism, saying the arrest orders were “necessary and justified and ... in line with international law and practice.”

Without directly mentioning the bounties, Mao said other countries also have extraterritorial aspects to their laws on national security, adding that foreign governments' support for those on the list was merely cover for their aim of destabilizing Hong Kong, an Asian financial center that was roiled by 2019 anti-government protests.

“We strongly oppose and deplore the individual countries slandering Hong Kong’s national security law and interfering in the judicial system of (Hong Kong),” Mao told reporters at a daily briefing.

A day earlier, Hong Kong police accused another five overseas-based activists of violating the National Security Law imposed by Beijing, and offered rewards for their arrests.

Mao said the five "endangered national security by destabilizing Hong Kong under the guise of democracy and human rights. "

The bounties further intensify the Hong Kong government’s crackdown on dissidents following the 2019 demonstration that grew increasingly violent and were harshly suppressed by police.

Many leading pro-democracy activists were arrested, silenced or forced into self-exile after the introduction of the security law in 2020, in a drastic erosion of the freedoms promised to the former British colony when it returned to China in 1997. Later legal changes effectively demolished any political opposition, with all seats on representative bodies either appointed by the government or reserved for those vetted and certified as “patriots.”

The latest arrest warrants were issued for Johnny Fok and Tony Choi, who host a YouTube channel focusing on current affairs, and pro-democracy activists Simon Cheng, Hui Wing-ting and Joey Siu. Those on the wanted list are believed to be living in self-exile mainly in Britain, the U.S. and Australia.

In July, Hong Kong warned eight other activists who now live abroad that they would be pursued for life with bounties put on them. It was the first such use of bounties under the security law, and the authorities’ announcement drew criticism from Western governments.

Police have arrested people on suspicion of providing funds for some of those who have fled abroad.

Both the U.S. and British governments have denounced the arrest warrants and bounties as flying in the face of human rights and democratic norms.

Mao responded Friday, saying, “The U.S. and U.K.’s support to these anti-China elements exposed their sinister intention of messing up Hong Kong."

“China’s determination to safeguard its national sovereignty, security and development interests is unwavering. The countries concerned should respect China’s sovereignty and the rule of law in Hong Kong and stop interfering in China’s internal affairs,” Mao said.

Amnesty International described the bounties as “absurd” and “designed to sow fear worldwide.”

“This is further confirmation that the Hong Kong authorities’ systematic dismantling of human rights has officially gone global. The brazen tactic of placing ‘Wild West’-style bounties on activists’ heads seems to be emerging as a method of choice to silence dissent," Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Greater China, Sarah Brooks, said Thursday in an emailed statement.

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