Hong Kong police on Thursday arrested 10 people on suspicion of endangering national security through their alleged involvement with a now-defunct fund that aimed to help people arrested in 2019 pro-democracy protests, escalating a crackdown on dissidents in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
The four men and six women are suspected of conspiring to collude with the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund to receive overseas donations and provide financial support to people who fled Hong Kong or organizations that called for sanctions against the city, police said.
A police statement did not identify the suspects or those alleged to be supported by them.
The arrests further intensified the Hong Kong government's crackdown on dissidents after the 2019 protests. More than 260 people have been arrested under a Beijing-imposed national security law, including many of the city’s leading pro-democracy activists.
Last year, the fund’s former trustees including Roman Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen, singer Denise Ho and former pro-democracy lawmaker Margaret Ng were arrested under the tough law. Zen's arrest at that time sent shockwaves through the Catholic community.
While they have not yet been charged with national security-related charges, they were fined in a separate case in November for failing to register the fund, which ceased operation in 2021.
Police have stepped up their campaign to target eight overseas-based Hong Kong activists, including former pro-democracy lawmakers Nathan Law, Ted Hui and Dennis Kwok.
They accuse the eight of violating the national security law and have offered rewards of $127,600 for information leading to each of their arrests. The bounties are the first under the law, and the authorities' move drew criticism from Western governments. Families of some of the activists have since been questioned by police.
Authorities also arrested former members of Demosisto — a now-defunct political party co-founded by Law — on suspicion of supporting overseas activists who allegedly endangered national security.
Police said Thursday they searched the homes and offices of the newly arrested suspects and seized documents and electronic communication devices. The suspects were accused of conspiracy to collude with foreign forces to endanger national security and inciting riot, police said.
"The police operation is ongoing and the possibility of further arrests is not ruled out," the statement said.
The security law has prosecuted and silenced many since its enactment in 2020. But the government and pro-Beijing camp have praised it for bringing back stability to the former British colony, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
The 2019 protests were sparked by a since-withdrawn bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China. Critics worried the suspects would disappear into China’s opaque and frequently abusive legal system. Opposition morphed into months of violent unrest in the city.