First Hong Kong Arrest Under China's New Law Is Man With Independence Flag

A man arrested at an anti-government protest in Hong Kong is the first to be detained for allegedly violating the new national security law introduced by Beijing on Tuesday, Hong Kong police said Wednesday.

The man was arrested in the city's Causeway Bay area during a march to protest against the national security law, which has effectively criminalized anti-government dissent in the restive territory.

It was signed into law Tuesday after a year of pro-democracy protests that have roiled Hong Kong's regional government and embarrassed the central government in Beijing.

Wednesday's march—coinciding with the the 23rd anniversary of the city's handover from British to Chinese control—was the first since the law came into force late on Tuesday night.

The unidentified man arrested was holding a flag with "Hong Kong Independence" written on it, Hong Kong police said on its official Twitter channel. "This is the first arrest since the law has come into force," the post said, referring to the national security law.

#BREAKING: A man was arrested for holding a #HKIndependence flag in #CausewayBay, Hong Kong, violating the #NationalSecurityLaw. This is the first arrest made since the law has come into force.

— Hong Kong Police Force (@hkpoliceforce) July 1, 2020

The Chinese government did not publish the full details of the law until it was already in effect. Opponents had warned that it would fatally undermine the "one country, two systems" agreement that have protected Hong Kong's market economy and way of life since its handover from British to Chinese control in 1997.

The Sino-British Joint Declaration handover agreement gave Hong Kongers greater political freedoms than their mainland compatriots. But these freedoms are now under threat.

The legislation criminalizes secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. Those convicted of leading such efforts now face life in prison, while others involved face anywhere between three and 10 years behind bars.

Critics have said the legislation effectively bans freedom of speech and protest in Hong Kong, which has a long history of popular movements pushing back against encroachment from the authoritarian regime in Beijing.

Local Legislative Council lawmakers were obliged to introduce a national security law of this type under Hong Kong's de facto constitution. But a 2003 attempt to do so collapsed after mass protests. The failure ultimately contributed to the downfall of then-Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa in 2005. This time, Beijing circumvented the LegCo.

The imminent adoption of the national security law prompted activists to dissolve pro-democracy organizations on Tuesday, fearing the expected Chinese crackdown on dissdenters.

Prominent activists said they would continue their fight for democracy and against Chinese encroachment but not under the banner of openly pro-democratic groups, which would now fall foul of the draconian national security law.

China, Hong Kong, arrest, law, national security
Riot police clear a street as protesters gathered to rally against a new national security law in Hong Kong on July 1, 2020, on the 23rd anniversary of the city's handover from Britain to China. DALE DE LA REY/AFP via Getty Images/Getty