Hong Kong police have arrested three student activists for “subversion” under the territory’s national security law over the group’s welfare programme for prisoners, street booths and social media content.
Senior superintendent Steve Li, from the city’s new national security police unit, announced the arrest of two men and one woman from the pro-democracy group, Student Politicism on Monday.
The three aged between 18 and 20, were the group’s convenor Wong Yat-chin, permanent secretary Wong Chi-sum and former spokesperson Chu Wai-ying.
Li said the group had set up street booths to spread what he called hateful speech against the government, including urging people not to use a government app aimed at tracking the spread of the coronavirus.
Police raided the group’s warehouse and seized large quantities of sweets, surgical masks, biscuits, lotion, and books – all items on a list of goods prisoners are allowed to receive from outside – as evidence.
But Li suggested democracy activists were using the items to win followers in prison.
“Helping prisoners is not a problem but it depends on the intention,” Li said.
“If the intention is to help prisoners with the same beliefs and to recruit followers … to continue to violate national security, it is a problem for sure.”
The subversion charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail.
The group also used slogans declared illegal under the new national security law and told people to “prepare for the next revolution,” Li said.
China imposed the security law on Hong Kong at the end of June last year, saying it was necessary to bring stability to the territory in the wake of mass marches and protests in 2019. It has also overhauled the territory’s electoral system to ensure only “patriots” can hold political office in Hong Kong.
Critics have said Beijing is destroying the freedoms it promised when Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Hundreds of people have been jailed since the 2019 protests, and many of the city’s most prominent pro-democracy politicians and activists are either in jail awaiting trial, often on national security charges, or have already been sentenced. Others have gone into exile.
In recent weeks, officials have sought to portray prisons as the next battlefront in their war to protect “national security”.
Earlier this month the city’s top security official Chris Tang accused jailed activists of collecting items like chocolates and hair clips to “build power” and “solicit followers”.
Wall-fare, a prisoners’ rights group that provided supplies for prisoners and connected them with pen-pals, disbanded after he made the comments.
The national security law punishes what China considers secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.