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Hong Kong cancels 6 democracy activists’ passports

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The Hong Kong government said Wednesday it had cancelled the passports of six democracy activists who fled to the United Kingdom, calling them “lawless wanted criminals”.

Since authorities quashed massive, at times violent, pro-democracy protests in 2019, Hong Kong has intensified a crackdown on dissent, enacting security laws that critics like Britain and the United States say have curbed the city’s unique freedoms.

Last year Hong Kong issued HK$1 million ($128,000) bounties for 13 activists based abroad who authorities accused of committing national security crimes.

The six named Wednesday — all on the bounty list — are considered “lawless wanted criminals… hiding in the United Kingdom.

“They continue to blatantly engage in activities that endanger national security. They also make scaremongering remarks to smear and slander the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

“We therefore have taken such measure to give them a strong blow”, a government spokesperson said in a statement.

Besides cancelling their Hong Kong passports, police said anyone offering funds, leasing property or running a business with those named could face up to seven years in jail.

The six are former pro-democracy lawmaker Nathan Law, veteran unionist Christopher Mung Siu-tat, and activists Finn Lau, Fok Ka-chi, Choi Ming-da and the founder of the civil society group Hongkongers in Britain, Simon Cheng.

Hong Kong officials cited a national security law passed in March — colloquially known as Article 23 — as the legal basis for cancelling their passports.

Finn Lau condemned the government on Wednesday and said he has only ever held a British National Overseas passport, which is available to Hong Kongers born in the former British colony before the 1997 handover back to China.

“It is ridiculous to cancel… (a Hong Kong passport) that never exists”, he said in a statement on social media platform X.

“Such a deployment of Hong Kong Article 23 ordinance is an explicit act of transnational repression and another breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration”, Lau said, adding that this “does not deter me from advocating human rights & democracy”.

Nathan Law also said cancelling his passport was “superfluous” as he had been granted asylum in the United Kingdom since 2021.

Regarding the potential legal risks for anyone offering money or doing business with him, Law wrote on Facebook that if the government’s measures “cause concern for friends in Hong Kong, please put your personal safety first”.

Bounties issued

Wednesday’s move came on the fifth anniversary of a violent clash between protesters and police that marked a major escalation in the pro-democracy protests of 2019 in Hong Kong.

A former British colony before the 1997 handover, the city enjoys more freedoms and rights than its mainland counterparts and has a robust opposition bloc that has long advocated for more democratic processes.

After quashing the protests, Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong in 2020 which critics say has broken down the legal firewall that once existed between the city and mainland China.

The law also claims the power to hold accused people accountable across the world.

Article 23, the homegrown national security law passed in March, granted Hong Kong authorities further enforcement powers, including the cancelling of passports.

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