WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday Washington is deeply concerned about 12 Hong Kong democracy activists being held in China, saying they have been denied access to lawyers and local authorities have not provided information on their welfare or the charges against them.
The United States questions the Hong Kong leadership’s commitments to protecting citizens’ rights, Pompeo said in a statement. The activists were arrested about two weeks ago off the coast of Hong Kong, according to the statement.
At the end of August the provincial Coast Guard Bureau said on its social media site that it had arrested at least 10 people after intercepting a boat off the cost of the southern province of Guangdong. Hong Kong media, citing unidentified sources, said the 12 were headed to Taiwan to apply for political asylum.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said earlier this week that if they “were arrested for breaching mainland offences then they have to be dealt with according to the mainland laws.”
“We question Chief Executive Lam’s stated commitment to protecting the rights of Hong Kong residents, and call on authorities to ensure due process,” Pompeo said.
On Saturday, the Chinese foreign ministry’s Hong Kong office expressed “firm opposition” to Pompeo’s remarks and demanded that U.S. politicians cease interfering with Hong Kong’s internal issues.
“The United States has its own economic and social problems, frequent racial conflicts, and a high number of coronavirus infections and deaths. It should have focused on handling domestic affairs,” it said in a statement.
In Hong Kong, families of six of the 12 detained activists donned masks and hats to shield their identities and demanded the urgent return of their relatives. It was the families’ first public appeal for help and information on their plight.
The arrests come as local activists and politicians fear a worsening clamp-down across the former British colony as a sweeping new national security law imposed by Beijing in July takes full effect.
(Reporting by Lisa Lambert, additiona reporting by Josh Horwitz in Shanghai; Editing by Mohammad Zargham, Grant McCool and Kim Coghill)