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Hong Kong teenage activist detained after reportedly planning to seek asylum at US consulate



Police said two men and a woman – aged between 17 and 21 – were arrested on Tuesday in connection with allegations of secession comments on social media.

Studentlocalism, a one-time independence group, identified the three on Facebook as its former convener Tony Chung and former members William Chan and Yani Ho.

According to a little-known UK-based activist organization, Friends of Hong Kong, who said she worked with Chung, he planned to seek asylum at the US consulate in Hong Kong before his arrest.

All three members of Studentlocalism had previously been arrested in July in connection with social media posts on a page claiming to represent the international part of the group.

The organisation̵

7;s branch in Hong Kong said it fell apart shortly after a national security law was imposed on the city by Chinese authorities banning secession, subversion and a secret agreement with foreign powers.

Police have accused Chung and others, still based in Hong Kong, of continuing to advocate for the city’s independence from China, a crime punishable by three to 10 years or life in prison for “serious” crimes. The accused denied having any connection with the secessionist posts in question.

Security guards are seen in front of the US Consulate in Hong Kong on October 27, 2020.

A spokesman for the Hong Kong government told CNN on Wednesday that he would not comment on media reports of the arrests, but said “there is no justification for the so-called ‘political asylum’ for people in Hong Kong.”

“It must be emphasized that people in Hong Kong are prosecuted for acts contrary to Hong Kong law, regardless of their political beliefs or background. In addition, trials are conducted by an independent judiciary in accordance with the rule of law,” he said. added.

An increasing number of Hong Kongers have successfully applied for asylum abroad since the national security law was passed earlier this year. Washington has said it will give priority to Hong Kong refugees, and American politicians are among the most vocal in criticizing China’s ongoing repression of the city’s autonomy and democratic freedoms.

However, granting asylum to activists in Hong Kong itself would be a major escalation and could provoke a diplomatic storm for both Washington and Beijing, potentially hampering the future of the Hong Kong consulate itself.

CNN contacted the US Consulate General in Hong Kong and the Hong Kong and Macao Office for comment.

Under US law, Washington “does not grant asylum in its diplomatic premises abroad.” Those who want to apply for refugee status must be present in the United States to do so. While in the past some activists have received protection from the US embassy in Beijing, this has been extremely rare and has always caused Washington great political headaches.
In 1989, following the Tiananmen Square crackdown, dissident Academician Fang Liji fled to the US embassy, ​​where he spent more than a year before Beijing agreed to allow him to leave China. In 2012, legal activist Chen Guangcheng, after months under house arrest, took a dramatic break for the embassy during a visit to Beijing by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Eventually, he was also allowed to leave the country after intense negotiations between US and Chinese officials.
However, when the disgraced former police chief Wang Lijun sought refuge at the US consulate in Chengdu the same year, he was rejected. Wang was eventually sentenced to 15 years in prison on corruption charges.
The difference between an embassy and a consulate can be crucial. Embassies are protected under international law, and closing one or entering the premises would cause a major diplomatic crisis. However, consulates are less secure and countries can order them to suspend operations, as both the United States and China did earlier this year, closing each country’s respective missions in Houston and Chengdu.
During the incident, which came after Washington said the Chinese consulate in Houston was involved in espionage operations, US authorities also accused the Beijing mission in San Francisco of sheltering a hidden Chinese scientist. Later, this scientist Tang Huang turned himself in to the police in California.

The circumstances surrounding Tang’s surrender remain unclear, but may be caused by fears that the United States could move to close the consulate in San Francisco if it had continued to be housed inside. Such concerns could lead US officials to give up asylum to dissidents in Hong Kong, the most important US mission in greater China since the embassy in Beijing.

During the consulate earlier this year, some Chinese state media outlets called for the Hong Kong consulate to be closed, accusing the United States of conducting influential operations outside it. While Beijing has so far abandoned a major escalation, the loss of the Hong Kong mission would be a serious blow to Washington, both diplomatically and practically, given Hong Kong’s economic importance and the number of Americans living in the city.

CNN’s Eric Chung contributed reports.


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