On July 3, 2023, the Hong Kong police issued arrest warrants for eight overseas-based Hong Kong human rights defenders accusing them of serious offenses including under the controversial National Security Law. The eight accused of foreign collusion and incitement to secession are human rights defenders Nathan Law, Anna Kwok, Finn Lau, Dennis Kwok, Ted Hui, Kevin Yam, Mung Siu-tat and Yuan Gong-yi. Among others, Nathan Law is one of the most prominent figures in the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. Kevin Yam is a Hong Kong solicitor and the co-founder of the Progressive Lawyers Group in Hong Kong, a civil society group set up to champion the rule of law, democracy, and human rights. Dennis Kwok is a barrister and former Hong Kong lawmaker who was elected as the sole representative of the Hong Kong legal profession in the Hong Kong Legislative Council from 2012 to 2020.
The Hong Kong police further put a bounty on the eight with rewards of HK$1 million (circa $128,000) each for any information that may lead to their arrest. The assets of the eight are to be frozen, where possible, and the public has been warned not to provide financial support to the eight or face the risk of violating the law themselves. The announcement has been met with international condemnation.
The National Security Law has been having a profound effect on the right to a fair trial and the rule of law in Hong Kong. According to reports, more than 160 people have been arrested under the National Security Law since it was introduced in June 2020. The majority of them are human rights defenders, journalists and opposition politicians. Over 50 non-governmental organizations were forced to close since the enactment of the controversial law. Its extra-territorial effect means that fleeing Hong Kong will not ensure safety. Indeed, the arrest warrants for the eight are the very proof of that. This is the first time that arrest warrants and bounties have been issued in relation to overseas activity related to the National Security Law. The eight are accused of continuing to violate the National Security Law while in exile. The charges they face carry a maximum life sentence.
Following the announcement, U.K. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said that “We will not tolerate any attempts by China to intimidate and silence individuals in the U.K. and overseas. The U.K. will always defend the universal right to freedom of expression and stand up for those who are targeted.” He further called on Beijing to “remove the National Security Law and for the Hong Kong authorities to end their targeting of those who stand up for freedom and democracy.” The U.S. State Department condemned the issuance of the arrest warrants and the international bounty and said that “The extraterritorial application of the Beijing-imposed National Security Law is a dangerous precedent that threatens the human rights and fundamental freedoms of people all over the world.” It further called on the Hong Kong government to immediately withdraw the bounty and stop the international assertion of the National Security Law imposed by Beijing. In response, China’s foreign ministry accused them of “flagrant slandering against the national security law for Hong Kong and interference in the rule of law in the Hong Kong SAR.” It further called on them to “stop lending support for anti-China elements destabilizing Hong Kong, and stop providing a safe haven for fugitives.”
The eight now face an additional threat, which adds to the harassment and abuse they have been facing due to their human rights work. While the majority of extradition agreements with Hong Kong are suspended, as a result of the deteriorating human rights situation in Hong Kong, many countries have not followed suit. Traveling to these countries poses a threat to human rights defenders who are targeted by National Security Law and may be extradited to Hong Kong to face charges. The issue needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency for these countries not to be complicit in this transnational repression of human rights defenders.