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Hong Kong students arrested on suspicion of inciting secession in first police operation under new security law

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Impact of national security law on Hong Kong
How China's new national security law impacts Hong Kong 06:24

Four students have reportedly been arrested in Hong Kong in the first police operation to enforce China's new "national security" law, officials said Wednesday. Arrests have been made previously under the new law for banners and slogans displayed at protests.

"Three males and one female, age 16-21, who claimed to be students, have been arrested for breaching the #nationalsecuritylaw. They were suspected of secession by advocating #HKindependence. Investigation is underway," the Hong Kong police tweeted.

Prominent pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong said that one of those arrested was Tony Chung, a student activist, and that he was detained after writing a Facebook post about "#China's nationalism."

"Arrestee's mobile phones were hacked by unknown #Huawei and #Samsung phones soon after their arrests. Tonight's arrest will clearly send a chilling effect on #HK online speech," Wong tweeted.

Silencing dissent

China's new "national security" legislation, which was written in secret in Beijing and came into force in Hong Kong on July 1, outlaws a variety of vaguely defined offenses like "sedition" that can carry sentences of life in prison. Critics accuse Beijing of using it to stifle the previously semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement, with reports of people self-censoring and removing past social media posts for fear of prosecution.

"People are still fighting on the ground. They are still resisting, but they also feel a sense of terror," prominent Hong Kong politician and activist Nathan Law, who fled Hong Kong for the U.K. soon after the new "national security" law came into effect, told CBS News.

Law became a household name in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory as a student leader during massive pro-democracy protests in 2014 and the emergent Nobel-peace-prize-nominated Umbrella Movement. He eventually founded the pro-democracy political party Demosisto, alongside Wong. The party was disbanded soon after the new "national security" legislation came into effect.

"When we realized the law was so draconian that we couldn't even speak up for Hong Kong, that it also indicts freedom of expression — really killing it — then for my consideration, I think we really did indeed need someone to be outside and to speak up for Hong Kong. So I decided to take that role," Law said.

"Leaving Hong Kong, you leave behind a lot of connections: Your family, your friends, the cat that you rescued on the street. But also it really gives you an opportunity to bear a huge responsibility to speak up for Hong Kong people," he said.

Controversial security law takes effect in Hong Kong 05:31

"Hong Kong is definitely a very symbolic place"

The arrests come amid reports that upcoming elections for Hong Kong's legislative council, or LegCo, currently scheduled for September, could be postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak. The U.S. and Australia issued a joint statement on Tuesday reiterating their support for "the people of Hong Kong to be able to elect Legislative Council representatives via a genuinely free and fair election, which is credible and peaceful, on September 6."

"Definitely Beijing wants to postpone the election because they're under pressure that a democratic candidate will perform very well," Law said, adding that no elected Hong Kong officials had been consulted about reported public health concerns. "They're trying to postpone for a year, which is an extremely long period, and unjustifiable," he said.

Law said he hopes that, from the relative safety of a country outside of China, he can build the necessary international pressure to help check Beijing's further encroachment on Hong Kong's freedoms.

"I think we need a value-bound community around the world that could act multi-laterally, assertively and collectively towards China ... We need to boost more allies like Europe, Japan and South Korea — these Asian democracies — to be in our camp in order to contain Beijing's authoritarian expansion," Law said.

"I think addressing the issues in Hong Kong is just a reflection of how to contain that authoritarian expansion, and Hong Kong is definitely a very symbolic place to enact those policies in order to hold China accountable," he said.

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