Report: Hong Kong Police Arrest Two American Visitors for Photographing Protests

Police secure Terminal 1 after a scuffle with pre-democracy protestors at Hong Kong's International Airport on August 13, 2019. - Hundreds of flights were cancelled or suspended at Hong Kong's airport on August 13 as pro-democracy protesters staged a second disruptive sit-in at the sprawling complex, defying warnings from the …
MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images

A freelance journalist in Hong Kong reported Sunday police had arrested two men “visiting from the U.S.” present at a protest attracting thousands in Tsuen Wan that day, potentially the first American citizen detentions since the protests began in June.

Freelance journalist Laurel Chor reported on Twitter the two men were arrested “after they took photos of the police” and one was a journalist, the other a photography professor. Chor, who claimed to speak to one of the men, said they were told they were being arrested for “illegal immigration” because they did not have identification on them, but they were not formally charged with any crime.

Chor said the man she spoke to described his arrest as a “total sham” and accused police of being “just bored.” The men were reportedly released after they showed police their passports, which officers had to drive them to where they were staying to help them do.

The Communist Party of China has repeatedly accused the United States of paying protesters and organizing assemblies for democracy in Hong Kong, making it likely that Beijing would use the arrest of the men in their propaganda if police do charge them with a crime.

The freelance journalist did not identify the men or indicate if they were American citizens or if American consulate officials had become involved. If confirmed, the arrests would indicate that police are targeting individuals for arrest simply for being present in areas where protests are occurring and taking photographs. The Tsuen Wan protest Sunday was largely peaceful during the day until police arrived with tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons, the latter making their debut in the Hong Kong protest movement.

Hong Kong residents have taken to the streets by the millions for 12 straight weeks urging the government not to allow Beijing to trample the individual rights that Hong Kong has enjoyed for decades. China agreed to a policy called “One Country, Two Systems” when the United Kingdom handed control of Hong Kong over to Beijing in 1997. That policy grants China sovereignty over Hong Kong in exchange for not being allowed to impose communist laws on the city.

This year, Hong Kong lawmakers – only half of whom Hong Kong residents are allowed to elect – proposed a bill that would require Hong Kong police to arrest anyone accused of violating Chinese laws, thereby forcing people in Hong Kong to comply to Communist Party legal norms, a violation of “One Country, Two Systems.” Protesters began to take to the streets in June demanding a withdrawal of the bill from the Hong Kong Legislative Council.

In the weeks since, lawmakers tabled the bill, making it possible for lawmakers to revive the bill at any time. In response, Hong Kong protesters are now listing five demands they seek from their government before they will stop marching: a full withdrawal of the bill, freedom for imprisoned protesters, universal suffrage to elect all lawmakers, an independent inquiry on police brutality against protesters, and an apology from the government for calling the June 12 protest a “riot.”

The most recent protest calling for the government to respect these demands occurred on Sunday in Tsuen Wan, in Hong Kong’s New Territories. The protest during the day was largely peaceful, protesters assert, but turned violent when police began firing tear gas at the crowds.

As the sun set on Tsuen Wan, some protesters armed with bamboo sticks began attacking mahjong parlors and an arcade they believed to be tied to triads, or organized crime groups. Police confirmed last month that a violent mob attack on unarmed protesters had ties to triad groups, who some protesters suspect of being paid by the Chinese government. The attacks on the mahjong parlors were meant as retaliation for the violence against them. Police then attacked the protesters. At least one officer fired his handgun in what officials claimed was a “warning shot” necessary to keep protesters from killing him.

Police arrested 86 people involved in protests this weekend, according to Reuters. The youngest detained is 12 years old. Police reportedly used 215 rounds of tear gas and shot 74 rubber bullets and one live-fire bullet.

China’s government propaganda arms blamed the United States for the violence. The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, published a story accusing a U.S.-based NGO of funding the protesters.

“Following the clues of monetary aid to opposition organizations in Hong Kong, it’s easy to see the conspiracy to turn Hong Kong into chaos in the interests of certain parties,” the People’s Daily claimed on Monday, accusing pro-democracy groups in the U.S. of being part of the “conspiracy” for human rights in Hong Kong. “The U.S. had better stop such tricks, obey international law and the basic norms of international relations, make a clean break with the rioters, stop sending obverse signals to radicals, and pull back before it is too late.”

Chinese government outlets and the Chinese Foreign Ministry have spent much of the summer making similar accusations.

“What is going on in Hong Kong? There is already evidence of interference by foreign forces. As Chinese officials have pointed out, the situation in Hong Kong bears the features of a ‘color revolution,’” the People’s Daily claimed two weeks ago. The term “color revolution” typically refers to pro-democracy protests in eastern Europe in the 2000s, primarily in Ukraine and Georgia. Those movements were largely against Russian military colonization of their territory, which continues to this day. The People’s Daily claimed that Washington was also behind those protests and that peaceful assemblies are “a form of warfare employed by the West to destabilize certain countries.”

“Judging from what was on the media, we see clear signs of foreign manipulation, orchestration and even organization in the relevant violent incidents,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters in July. “I hope the U.S. will answer this question honestly and clearly: what role did the U.S. play in the recent incidents in Hong Kong and what is your purpose behind it?”

“We advise the U.S. to withdraw its dirty hands from Hong Kong as soon as possible,” Hua warned.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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