Hong Kong police announced the arrests Tuesday of nine people after the alleged discovery of a weapons, explosives, and chemical cache authorities suspect was meant for use in bombing public areas. Six of those arrested are children.
“They all have some planning at some stage to leave Hong Kong for good. So the group is particularly interested in this group and recruited them to join the plot to do the sabotage before their departure,” senior police superintendent Steve Li told authorities about the children. The adults involved in the mass arrest are reportedly employees at a local secondary school and a university, according to Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK). The ages of those arrested range from 15 to 39.
The arrests are the latest in a crackdown on suspected anti-communist dissidents in the city that began with a raid by hundreds of police officers on the offices of Apple Daily, once Hong Kong’s most popular anti-communist newspaper. The raid resulted in the arrest of most of the newspaper’s senior staff and the freezing of the newspaper’s assets; Apple Daily shut down a week later, keeping only its Taiwanese edition active.
Many of those arrested in the Apple Daily raid — and the newspaper’s owner, Jimmy Lai — are facing prosecution for violating the Communist Party’s “national security law,” which requires a minimum sentence of ten years in prison for those found guilty of the crimes of terrorism, sedition, incitement to foreign interference, or “subversion of state power.” Police appear to be planning to prosecute those arrested Tuesday, for possessing explosives and allegedly plotting to bomb major roads, under the same law as the journalists, for writing articles condemning Chinese human rights abuses.
Under Hong Kong’s “One Country, Two Systems” policy, laws the Communist Party in Beijing passes do not apply to the city. Hong Kong police have nonetheless regularly enforced the “national security” law, violating the policy.
The Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) identified the nine arrested Tuesday as members of a radical anti-Chinese group known as “Returning Valiant.”
“Police raided a hostel on Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, and found small quantity of explosives, raw materials for manufacturing bombs, and laboratory equipment for making triacetone triperoxide (TATP), a highly unstable explosive prone to unintended detonation,” according to the HKFP. Police stated authorities froze HK$600,000 (about $77,000) in assets tied to the suspects and that evidence suggested the group was planning to leave bombs in trash cans to attack courthouses and other public areas.
The allegations are the most violent against anyone in a high-profile “national security law” arrest yet. When the law first passed in mid-2020, police used it to target any public expression that may be interpreted as opposing Chinese communist rule in Hong Kong. In one notorious early case, police arrested a man for shouting “long live Liverpool!” in celebration of the British city’s Premier League victory; police interpreted references to the team as a subtle endorsement of British rule in the city.
The first trial against a “national security” law suspect opened in June against a man arrested for carrying a flag reading “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times,” the unofficial slogan of the 2019 anti-communist protests.
The past week has seen a notable shift in police activity against suspects accused of violent activity, rather than just political expression. The latest arrest prior to those Tuesday occurred last week after a 50-year-old man stabbed a police officer, who is currently recovering, then killed himself, on July 1. July 1 marked the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party and the anniversary of the British surrender of Hong Kong to China. Pro-democracy activists typically organize assemblies on July 1 in observance of the British surrender, but Hong Kong police denied permits for those events, citing Chinese coronavirus concerns. Hong Kong nonetheless approved hundreds of mass gatherings on that day to celebrate communism, undermining alleged concerns about “superspreader events.” Authorities arrested 19 people for attempting to gather peacefully Thursday.
The police officer stabbing triggered a small outpouring of condolences for the late assailant, prompting police to warn that offering condolences may violate the “national security” law. Among those expressing such sentiments is the man’s former employer, the plant-based drink company Vitasoy, now facing a boycott from China — and at least one bomb threat — over lamenting the suffering of the man’s family in an internal message.
“If you encourage people to sympathize with such attackers, then you are asking people to sympathize with such terrorists. Then they are going to support these terrorists, and ultimately they will become terrorists themselves,” Hong Kong Security Secretary Chris Tang, who recently assumed the post after serving as police chief, said Tuesday. Tang added that arresting those expressing sympathies would depend on the individual case.
The government threats have not stopped some in Hong Kong from laying flowers at the site of the stabbing — for the assailant, not the police officer.
Tang’s promotion — and that of Hong Kong second-in-command John Lee, who was promoted out of the security secretary position — prompted city-wide concerns that too many police officers were being given civilian posts, to which pro-Beijing officials responded by stating there was no cause for concern about police officers getting promoted.
“If it’s a police state, why not? I don’t think there’s any problem with a police state. When we say a police state, I will view the other side, that is the emphasis on security,” pro-communist lawmaker Alice Mak said in June. “I think security is an issue in our society. So if someone from the police discipline can help to govern Hong Kong, can help to maintain law and order in Hong Kong, why not?”