US, Australia, UK, Canada condemn mass arrests in Hong Kong

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American, Australian, Canadian and British diplomats issued a joint statement Sunday condemning the detention of more than 50 Hong Kong activists, calling it evidence that the city’s strict new national security law is being used to target dissidents.

Hong Kong officials announced about 55 arrests last week, the largest mass arrest since China imposed the new national security edict in 2020, The Associated Press reported. All but three have been released on bail.

The majority of the detainees had participated in an unofficial primary for a since-postponed legislative election, which Hong Kong authorities have claimed was a violation of the law.

“It is clear that the National Security Law is being used to eliminate dissent and opposing political views,” reads the joint statement from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne, British Secretary of State Dominic Raab, and Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Francois-Philippe Champagne. “We call on the Hong Kong and Chinese central authorities to respect the legally guaranteed rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong without fear of arrest and detention.”

Pompeo separately announced this weekend that the U.S. will remove diplomatic restrictions on relation with Taiwan, previously in place as a concession to Beijing, which considers the island Chinese territory.

Hong Kong officials accused the diplomats of improper interference in sovereign affairs, saying “We are appalled by remarks made by some overseas government officials that seemed to suggest that people with certain political beliefs should be immune to legal sanctions.”

Western diplomats have called the national security law one of the Chinese government’s most explicit moves to erode Hong Kong’s autonomy since the British government handed over control in 1997 under a “one nation, two systems” rule. It followed protests that lasted for much of 2019 over a since-withdrawn bill that would have allowed the extradition of some suspects to China.

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