Hong Kong police made their first arrests under a new national security law imposed by China's central government, detaining at least two protesters Wednesday for carrying flags and signs calling for Hong Kong's independence. A man who had a Hong Kong independence flag was arrested at a protest in the city's Causeway Bay shopping district after police issued multiple warnings to the crowd that they might be in violation of the law, per a police statement on Twitter. Police later arrested a woman for holding up a sign displaying the British flag and calling for Hong Kong's independence, per the AP. The arrests come less than 24 hours after the national security law was imposed by China after last year's anti-government protests in the semi-autonomous territory. The law took effect on Tuesday at 11pm. More coverage:
- An explainer: The law makes secessionist, subversive, or terrorist activities illegal, as well as foreign intervention in the city's internal affairs. Any person taking part in secessionist activities, such as shouting slogans or holding up banners and flags urging for the city's independence, is in violation of the law, regardless of whether violence is used. The CBC has a primer, including China's justification for the law.
- Chaos unfolds: The Guardian hosts a live blog featuring footage from the protests, including clips showing riot police shooting pepper balls into the crowd, the shattered window of a Starbucks, and a person "who appears to be a videographer" getting blasted to the ground by a police water cannon at close range.
- Arrests: The Hong Kong Police Force tweeted that at least 180 people had been arrested for taking part in "unauthorized assemblies," "disorderly conduct," and "suspectedly violating [the] #NationalSecurityLaw," among other infractions. "Stop breaking the law," it warned in its post.
- Repercussions: The most serious offenders could receive a maximum punishment of life imprisonment. Lesser offenders could receive jail terms of up to three years, short-term detention, or restriction.
- Approval from the CEO: Hong Kong's leader strongly endorsed the new law in her speech marking Wednesday's 23rd anniversary of the territory's handover from colonial Britain. "It is ... an essential and timely decision for restoring stability in Hong Kong," chief executive Carrie Lam said in a speech, following a flag-raising ceremony and the playing of China's national anthem.
- Concerns on the law: The CBC notes critics are worried the law is so vague that practically anyone with a beef about the Chinese government could be rounded up. "Even the bravest people in Hong Kong are worried that the law is going to get them," well-known activist Joshua Wong says.
- More pushback: Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo said in a news conference that the new law didn't abide by the rule of law and was a dire warning to the free press. "This would tell you that they want not just to get us, but to intimidate us into inaction, into a catatonic state," she said, per the AP.
- A famous supporter: Greta Thunberg posted a tweet rallying behind those demonstrating. "My thoughts are with the people of Hong Kong," she wrote on Wednesday.
- America's reaction: The US is moving to end special trade terms given to the territory. The Trump administration has also said it will bar defense exports to Hong Kong and will soon require licenses for the sale of items that have both civilian and military uses. Congress has also moved to impose sanctions on people deemed connected to political repression in Hong Kong, including police officials.
- China's reaction: China, meanwhile, has said it will impose visa restrictions on Americans it sees as interfering over Hong Kong. In a statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced the threat of a visa ban as a sign of "how Beijing refuses to take responsibility for its own choices" and that Beijing's "paranoia and fear of its own people's aspirations have led it to eviscerate the very foundation of the territory's success," per the AP.
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