After placing a massive HK$200,000 bounty on two former Hong Kong residents earlier this month, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is now attempting to lure them in by promising them “rehabilitation” in China. The dissidents, Kevin Yam and Ted Hui, are living in Australia at present. Yam is a Melbourne-based lawyer while Hui, now a resident of Adelaide, is a former Hong Kong politician. The two have been vocally critical of the deteriorating condition of democracy in Hong Kong.
Yam came to know about his arrest warrant through social media site Twitter. He had participated in protests in Hong Kong several years ago, while he was still living there. Then, at the beginning of this year, he publicly criticised the erosion of the rule of law in the country at a US Congress. Hui, who had earlier termed the bounty “ridiculous and hilarious” and was standing his ground regarding speaking up for freedom of democracy, is now worried that the Chinese authorities might kidnap his children. “It‘s not very likely, but it’s possible for criminals hired by the regime to do terrible things. They can kidnap children. It happened to many dissidents overseas, so it can happen to me,” he told a media outlet.
On the other hand, the CCP is claiming that if Yam and Hui turn themselves in, it will be to their own benefit, as they will be “rehabilitated” in China. Talking to a media outlet, Regina Ip, a pro- Beijing politician and Convenor of Hong Kong’s Executive Council, said if the two dissidents returned to China, there were no plans to “exterminate” them. “In fact, if they go through our correctional services system, we will try to rehabilitate them,” Ip claimed.
Not the only ones
Yam and Hui are among the eight people that the CCP has placed a bounty upon. The others include former lawmaker Dennis Kwok, activists Anna Kwok and Finn Lau, unionist Mung Siu-tat, online commentator Yuan Gong-yi, and former legislator Nathan Law.
All of them have been accused of conspiring with foreign forces to endanger Hong Kong’s national security. The offence carries a sentence of up to life in prison under a sweeping national security law, imposed upon the country by Beijing in 2020. Beijing hails the controversial law, claiming it restored stability to Hong Kong after long-drawn pro-democracy demonstrations in 2019. But many other states, including the US, have criticised it as a tool of repression.
The authorities are offering a reward of HK$1m per person for information on the eight activists. This amount is much higher than what is offered for wanted murderers and rapists.
At the time of issuing these arrest warrants, the CCP had accused the eight of subversion, incitement to subversion and secession. Steven Li, China’s chief superintendent of the national security police, has claimed that the accused have committed very serious offences that endanger national security.
The eight cannot be arrested from overseas but Li has said that the Chinese authorities will not stop chasing them. At the same time, Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing leader John Lee has compared the activists to street rats.
Going after the families
Meanwhile, the Hong Kong national security police, an outfit formed in 2020 as part of Beijing’s crackdown on dissent in the region, have increased their efforts to target family members and relatives of all the eight activists.
Last week, the force raided the home of the parents of former legislator Nathan Law. They also took them and Law’s brother for questioning. Law, one of Hong Kong’s most high-profile pro- democracy activists, was granted political asylum in the UK in 2020. Law has publicly severed ties with his family and is not in touch with them.
Police also arrested five members of Demosisto, a disbanded political group, for allegedly
providing financial aid to Law. They were later granted bail. Demosisto was dissolved after the enactment of the national security law in 2020.
Then this week, the police raided the homes of relatives of two other exiled activists. The dissidents, Dennis Kwok, now based in the US, and Christopher Mung, have bounties of HK$1m (£99,500) placed upon them.
On July 25, Mung’s brother, his wife and son were questioned. Mung, a UK-based trade unionist, had left Hong Kong last year. Then on July 27, the police took Kwok’s elder brother, a former legislator, and three other unidentified relatives for questioning. According to the police, the relatives were suspected of “assisting the fugitives to continue to engage in acts that endanger national security”.
Police have also twice summoned the family members of Glacier Kwong, the former
spokesperson for Keyboard Frontline, an NGO. Kwong now lives in Germany.
Rights groups pan action
Human rights groups have criticised the Hong Kong police’s move. Maya Wang, the associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch, has condemned the manner in which the Hong Kong government seems to be adopting Beijing’s “thuggish tactic” of harassing activists ’families. Mark Sabah, with the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation, has stated that the tactic mirrors the Chinese government’s action on Uyghurs, Tibetans and other dissidents.