National Security

China Detains Activists for Supporting Hong Kong Protests

Arrests follow protests on mainland, social media support

Student protesters in Hong Kong / AP

Chinese authorities have detained or harassed dozens of activists this week who expressed support for the protests in Hong Kong, including some who simply posted messages of solidarity online.

The activist group Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) reports that several Chinese dissidents were detained or questioned by police on Monday and Tuesday as the demonstrations in Hong Kong swelled.

Authorities seized as many as 20 activists and citizens who congregated on Tuesday at the Martyr Memorial Gardens in the southern city of Guangzhou to show support for the Hong Kong protesters.

Others were punished for discussing Hong Kong online. Several activists posted messages or photos of themselves referencing the protests on blogging sites such as Weibo, prompting threatening calls from officers and in some cases detention.

"Jiangxi Province police seized activists Song Ningsheng, Gong Xinhua, and Chen Maosen on September 30, and searched Song’s house," CHRD said. "The three men had posted photos of themselves holding up signs in support of the Hong Kong protests."

The detentions are the latest episode in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s broad crackdown on dissidents and ethnic minorities since he came to power in 2012.

Protests continued to grow in downtown Hong Kong on Wednesday as demonstrators said they would not disband until the financial center’s leadership addressed their demands. Leung Chun-ying, the city’s chief executive, and his advisers said they would wait out the protests but warned that police would take more forceful action if the sit-in became violent.

The generally youthful demonstrators have been largely peaceful so far.

Hong Kong democracy activists say China has not fulfilled its promise to grant the city free elections in 2017 for its next chief executive. China’s National People’s Congress ruled in August that candidates for Hong Kong’s top position would still have to be approved by a nominating committee stacked with pro-Beijing members.

Mainland Chinese residents have expressed mixed feelings about the protests in Hong Kong. One 29-year-old Beijing tourist told Reuters in Hong Kong that she at first was skeptical of the demonstrations but now supports them.

"I believe something like this will happen in China one day," she said.

China has been eager to quell any dissent on the mainland that the demonstrations in Hong Kong might inspire. The last large-scale democratic protests in China ended with a bloody crackdown in 1989 by Chinese troops in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Tuesday that the Chinese government "firmly opposes all illegal acts that undermine the rule of law and sabotage social stability"and warned against intervention by foreign countries in Hong Kong.

"We urge relevant countries to be prudent in words and deeds, refrain from interfering in Hong Kong's internal affairs in any way, and do not support the illegal activities such as the ‘Occupy Central’ nor send any wrong signal," she said.

U.S. lawmakers and China experts have instead called for applying more pressure on Beijing to accede to the protesters’ demands. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to raise the issue with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in a meeting on Wednesday in Washington.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), urged the Obama administration on Tuesday to speak out firmly on the side of the protesters.

"We must make clear that any violence against peaceful protesters will have significant consequences for U.S.-China relations," Rubio said. "America absolutely takes sides when confronted with right and wrong."