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Hong Kong Police Take Steps To Enforce Controversial National Security Law

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Now to what appears to be new steps by Hong Kong police, who are enforcing a controversial national security law. They have arrested four people for statements posted online. Police said they were promoting independence from China. As NPR's John Ruwitch reports, these arrests raise fresh concerns about freedom of speech in the former British colony.

JOHN RUWITCH, BYLINE: The four suspects range from 16 to 21 years old. Police didn't identify them, but a pro-independence group called Studentlocalism that disbanded at the end of June when the national security law was enacted said on Facebook all four were former members. Police Senior Superintendent Steve Li said the suspects posted their desire online to promote Hong Kong as its own country and to unite pro-independence groups in Hong Kong.

STEVE LI: This organization posts in social media about the establishment of a new parties that would promote the independence of Hong Kong.

RUWITCH: China's parliament imposed the national security law in Hong Kong at the end of June. It was drafted, passed and enacted largely in secret and with little consultation from Hong Kong itself. The law bans subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. Hong Kong's Beijing-backed leaders and China's ruling Communist Party say it was necessary after months of anti-government protests in the city.

Critics say the law is sweeping and vague. They say it threatens many of the freedoms that have set Hong Kong apart from the mainland since China regained control of the territory in 1997. Joshua Rosenzweig is head of the China Team at Amnesty International in Hong Kong. He says this is a disturbing example of how the authorities are using the national security law to restrict freedom of expression.

JOSHUA ROSENZWEIG: What we're seeing here is four young people who are potentially facing quite serious jail time simply for expressing their political views online. You know, under international human rights law, blanket prohibitions of peaceful expression are just not allowed.

RUWITCH: Several people have been arrested this month under the national security law for shouting banned slogans or waving independence or liberation banners. The latest arrests appear to be the first for statements posted online. The maximum sentence for violating the national security law is life in prison.

John Ruwitch, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.