U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Saturday criticized Chinese authorities for arresting 15 prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters over the weekend.
“I condemn the latest assault on the rule of law and the liberty of the people of Hong Kong. These events show how antithetical the values of the Chinese Communist Party are to those we share in Western liberal democracies,” Barr said in a statement on Saturday. “These actions — along with its malign influence activity and industrial espionage here in the United States — demonstrate once again that the Chinese Communist Party cannot be trusted.”
China arrested fifteen activists, including Martin Lee, 81, a lawyer and founder of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, and Jimmy Lai, 71, a publishing tycoon, on charges of organizing anti-government protests in August and October 2019.
“This is all happening while we are in midst of a pandemic,” activist Avery Ng told Reuters. “The world is dealing with this virus, but this signals that Beijing still sees a political crackdown in Hong Kong is a top priority.”
Protests began after Hong Kong administrator Carrie Lam drafted a bill in February 2019 that would have allowed authorities to extradite suspected criminals to mainland China. Activists believe the law would allow the Chinese government to circumvent the city’s civil liberties and relative autonomy from the mainland. The bill was eventually withdrawn but protests continued as young Hong Kong residents demanded greater Democratic reforms and an end to police brutality.
Street demonstrations throughout 2019, some of which turned violent, brought much of city life to a halt, and pro-democracy candidates won sweeping victories in Hong Kong’s local elections in November.
Protests have subsided, however, with the spread of coronavirus. Hong Kong has recorded over 1,000 cases as of Monday, with four deaths, although observers have questioned data on coronavirus spread coming from China.