Hong Kong offers rewards for arresting activists, which are also concerns in the Netherlands

Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of China. Until 1997, the city was a British colony. 26 years ago, Hong Kong was handed over to China. It was agreed that Hong Kong would be allowed to retain its laws, political freedoms, and jurisdiction for fifty years. But since 2019, Hong Kong’s freedoms have been rapidly declining.

The eight arrested in Hong Kong are activists, former politicians, a judge, legal researcher, trade unionist and online commentator. They are accused of violations of national security, including foreign conspiracy. Eight million Hong Kong dollars will be offered for information leading to their arrest. That is, about 115,000 euros per person.

Hong Kongers living in the Netherlands are also following the developments. Like Ms. Cheung. She has been living in the Netherlands for more than a year. For security reasons, we do not use her first name. The developments do not surprise her. “It was just a matter of time.”

Caution with opinion

“We don’t have freedom of speech or press anymore, but what’s happening now I think is a little crazy,” she says. “It makes no sense for the police to ask the activists to return to Hong Kong to surrender.”

It affects her life, even now that she lives in the Netherlands. “I worry about what I post on the internet and what I talk about on WhatsApp.”

The arrest warrants drew international criticism from Hong Kong leader John Lee, but he didn’t seem to care much. “The only way to put an end to the fate of a person in hiding who will be pursued for life is to turn himself in so far,” he said of the eight wanted people from Hong Kong on Tuesday. They will live in constant fear of arrest.”

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The fact that Hong Kong is now chasing dissidents abroad fits with the development we have seen in the Chinese region for some time, says China expert Frans-Paul van der Putten. “Hong Kong used to be a relatively safe space for people with political ideas different from those of the Chinese government. But that has gradually diminished in recent years. Especially after the introduction of the National Security Law.”

Day and night difference

This law was introduced in 2020 after a major protest movement in Hong Kong in 2019. “It basically means that anyone who threatens national security can be subject to heavy penalties,” says China correspondent Roland Smid. “But this law is too broad and vague. The utmost use is made of this vagueness: It is a hoax to go after critical numbers.”

So you can talk about Hong Kong before and Hong Kong after the national security law, says Smid. “The difference between night and day really. Before this law, you could express yourself critically to the government there and commemorate the 1989 protests. This was never the case in mainland China and now it’s also banned in Hong Kong.”

It caused many Hong Kong residents to go abroad. So is Nathan Law, a prominent activist. It also offered a reward for his arrest this week. “Two years ago, he published a book on the relationship between China and Hong Kong, and he still talks and writes about politically sensitive issues for China,” says van der Putten.

Smid: “After the implementation of the National Security Law, he immediately decided to leave. A number of his friends and colleagues did not, and are now in prison.”

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Hong Kong in the Netherlands

The representative of the Holland Activist Organization for Hong Kong believes that more Hong Kongers now living in the Netherlands will be more careful about what they say or do. “Some people will even be cautious about liking a post on Facebook.” According to the representative, this has been the case since the National Safety Act went into effect. But what is happening now will only make it worse.

He added that while some activists were already under surveillance from Hong Kong, this was different. “This is something more real, there is a formal bonus to people. It’s not just about these eight people. Because eight can also become twenty in the future. Or thirty.”

However, the eight activists’ “hunt” is mainly intended as a warning, Van der Putten and Smid believe. “The Hong Kong government is signaling to people to be careful, even if you live overseas,” says van der Putten.

Image damage

In addition to the warning function, the developments also fit into the broader Chinese context, van der Putten explains. “First, the Chinese government is very sensitive to image issues. They want to limit image damage wherever possible.”

Moreover, the country has a history of political dissidents abroad carrying out activities there that could undermine the government. Just think of Sun Yat-sen, China’s first president, the “Father of the Fatherland.” He contributed in the beginning of the last century as an overseas dissident contributed in revolution.”

It is not yet clear what effect the arrest warrants and promised rewards will have. The wanted activists live in countries such as the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia. “These are all in countries that will definitely not hand over these people to China,” says Smid.

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This is also evident from the reactions from those countries. The Prime Minister of Australia called it “unacceptable”. The UK Foreign Secretary said she would not tolerate “attempts to intimidate individuals in the UK from China”. The United States also condemns this step. The US State Department has called for the reward to be withdrawn and for the sovereignty of other countries to be respected.

Megan Vasquez

"Creator. Coffee buff. Internet lover. Organizer. Pop culture geek. Tv fan. Proud foodaholic."

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