Hong Kong police collected DNA samples from people arrested on suspicion of violating the city’s new national security law last week, the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) reported on Monday.
Last Wednesday, Hong Kong police made their first arrests under the city’s new “national security” law, which was imposed by China on June 30.
“Six men and four women, ages 15 to 67, were charged with acts of inciting or abetting subversion or secession,” Hong Kong police said, according to the Japan Times.
Janet Pang, a lawyer for several of the people arrested on July 1, spoke to Asian media this week about the “unusual” DNA collection by police.
“Pang said she believes it is the first time genetic data has been taken from protesters arrested [in Hong Kong] on minor charges,” the Japan Times reports. According to HKFP, the lawyer said that it was “unusual” for police to “obtain DNA samples from detained persons other than suspects involved in serious assaults or rape cases.”
“It is unnecessary, intrusive, and disproportionate. I don’t know why they had to take DNA samples. We don’t know what kind of database they’re [the Hong Kong police] trying to build which might be sent back to the central government in Beijing,” she told the Japan Times. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has long conducted forceful DNA extractions from its citizens for compilation in mass police databases, including from people with “no history of serious criminal activity,” according to a recent report.
Continuing, the lawyer said, “Hong Kong police have had the authority to collect DNA samples for more than a decade, but it was typically only used in assault or drug cases. The few protesters who had DNA samples taken from them by police had been charged with more serious offenses including weapons possession and attempted arson.”
The Hong Kong police said that the samples of DNA were taken from the ten people arrested last week “to prove — or disprove — that those arrested had committed the alleged offenses,” the Japan Times reported.
According to HKFP, Hong Kong police said that under existing law, officials have the authority to take “nonintimate samples, such as saliva and hair,” if there are “reasonable grounds to suspect the person has committed a serious arrestable offense.”
Hong Kong was already tightly surveilled before the new security crackdown, with tens of thousands of CCTV cameras installed across the city for years. Under current Hong Kong law, “anyone older than 11 must hand over biometric data to receive a national ID card,” the Japan Times reports.
On Monday, Hong Kong “asserted sweeping new police powers” allowing law enforcement to conduct intrusive acts including “warrantless searches, online surveillance, and property seizures,” according to the report. Pang told the Japan Times that some of her clients arrested last week had their homes searched as well.
Hong Kong’s national security law went into effect last week. It effectively strips Hong Kong’s citizens’ of their rights to free assembly and free speech, granted under a 1997 “One Country, Two Systems” agreement after Britain handed the city back to China post-colonial rule. In recent months, the CCP has been eroding Hong Kong’s limited freedoms allowed under this system, which sparked protests in response last summer. The protests have evolved into a wider pro-democracy movement, which the CCP aims to quash with the new law.