CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – Foreign Ministers of Australia, the United States, Great Britain and Canada issued a joint statement on Sunday expressing “grave concern” over the arrest of 55 democracy activists and supporters in Hong Kong last week.
The arrests were by far the largest such action taken under a national security law that China imposed on the semi-autonomous territory just over six months ago.
“It is clear that the National Security Law is being used to suppress dissent and opposing political views,” the four foreign ministers said.
The Chinese and Hong Kong governments say the law is needed to restore order in a city that was rocked in 2019 by months of often violent anti-government protests demanding greater democracy.
“We are appalled by the remarks made by some foreign government officials who appeared to suggest that people with certain political beliefs should be immune from legal sanctions,” the Hong Kong government said in response to the statement by the ministers of affairs. foreigners.
Most of those arrested last week had participated in an unofficial primary for a legislative election which was later postponed. Authorities say the primary was part of a plot to take control of the legislature in order to cripple the government and force the town chief to resign.
The 55 have not been charged and all but three have been released on bail pending further investigation. Convictions could prevent them from running for office.
The four foreign ministers said the next legislative election is expected to include candidates representing a range of political opinions. Only half of the city’s legislature is elected by popular vote.
“We call on the central authorities of Hong Kong and China to respect the legally guaranteed rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong without fear of arrest and detention,” they wrote.
The declaration was signed by Marise Payne from Australia, François-Philippe Champagne from Canada, Dominic Raab from the United Kingdom and Mike Pompeo from the United States.
Separately, Pompeo announced on Saturday that the United States is rolling back long-standing restrictions on how its diplomats and others have contact with their counterparts in Taiwan, an autonomous island which China says should be under its control. authority.
The actions in Taiwan and Hong Kong will undoubtedly anger China, which views these actions as foreign interference in its internal affairs.
The Trump administration, which is in its dying days, is also sending Kelly Craft, its ambassador to the United Nations, to Taiwan later this week. China sharply criticized the upcoming visit, while the Taiwanese government hailed it.