Hong Kong dispatch: bounty for exiled democracy activists may yield information for police Dispatches
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Hong Kong dispatch: bounty for exiled democracy activists may yield information for police

Ashley Wong is a law student at CUHK and JURIST’s Deputy Bureau Chief in Hong Kong. 

On July 3, the Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF) offered HK$1 million bounties for each arrest of eight exiled democracy activists, who are accused of violating the National Security Law. This is the first time Hong Kong has offered bounties with respect to its National Security Law, which was promulgated and applied in Hong Kong on June 30, 2020, to safeguard national security.

The eight fugitives – activists Finn Lau Cho-dik, Anna Kwok Fung-yee, and Elmer Yuan Gong-yi; former legislators Nathan Law Kwun-chung, Dennis Kwok Wing-hang, and Ted Hui Chi-fung; lawyer Kevin Yam Kin-fung; and unionist Mung Siu-tat – have all fled Hong Kong and are understood to be in countries such as Australia, Canada, Britain, and the US.

In its press release, HKPF stated that all eight of them:

… are alleged to have continued to commit offences under the Hong Kong National Security Law that seriously endanger national security, including ‘incitement to secession’, ‘subversion’, ‘incitement to subversion’ and ‘collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security. Thus, the Police applied to the court for the arrest warrants in accordance with the law and put the persons on the wanted list.

According to Articles 37 and 38 of the National Security Law, the law applies to permanent residents, incorporated bodies, and unincorporated bodies – established in Hong Kong – that commit an offence outside the region. The law also applies to non-permanent residents of Hong Kong who violate the law outside the region. 

The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administration Region (HKSAR) also expressed on July 3 that it supports the HKPF’s National Security Department with regards to arresting the eight activists. It stated in its press release that:

The HKSAR Government steadfastly safeguards national sovereignty, security and development interests, and unswervingly, fully and faithfully implements the top principle of ‘one country, two systems’. It is the constitutional responsibility of the HKSAR to safeguard national security, and it is the common responsibility of all the people in China, including the people of Hong Kong, to safeguard the sovereignty, unification and territorial integrity of the People’s Republic of China. The HKSAR Government shall proactively prevent, suppress and impose punishment for any act and activity endangering national security in accordance with the National Security Law and other relevant laws[.]

Disapproving of the arrest warrant, Yam said “[i]t’s my duty … to continue to speak out against the crackdown that is going on right now, against the tyranny that is now reigning over the city that was once one of the freest in Asia.” In addition, Kwok stated “[o]ne key thing I urge President Biden to do immediately is to say a strong and firm NO to John Lee’s possible entry into the United States for November’s APEC meeting in San Francisco … He’s the man who has orchestrated the far-reaching transnational repression.”

Meanwhile, Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee has also demonstrated support for the HKPF’s National Security Department in arresting the eight activists. He proffered that:

I am in support of the Police’s action. It’s not just that this is an important duty they should do. But it is to try to get as much assistance as possible from law-abiding citizens. A lot of them feel a strong responsibility to protect national security, and I think they will be pleased to provide information to the Police … I also want to tell the criminals that, well, the only way to end their destiny of being an abscondee who will be pursued for life is to surrender.

Since the National Security Law was passed, 260 individuals between the ages of 15 and 90 have been arrested in contravention of the law. While critics have condemned the law for undermining human rights in Hong Kong, the law has seemingly ended the 2019-2020 anti-government protests, which resulted in a weakened economy, damaged traffic lights, and school closures. 

While the idea of a bounty may initially come across as shocking, it would perhaps not be surprising if persons with information disclose what they know to claim the bounty. After all, Hong Kong has consistently been ranked as one of the most expensive cities to live in and a colossal number of Hong Kongers are stressed about the cost of living in the city. Furthermore, a multitude of Hong Kong residents live in clustered homes with limited personal space, in a city where housing is the least (or one of the least) affordable in the world.

As a Special Administrative Region, Hong Kong is governed under the “one country, two systems” principle and its rule of law offers certain advantages, for example law tax rates for businesses, in the region. This is unique to Hong Kong and does not apply to the mainland, as such, Hong Kong and the mainland could complement their strengths and weaknesses to strive for future prosperity and development.

Ultimately, violence may not be the most effective way to advocate for change.