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Hong Kong police make first arrests under new security law

(Police display a public announcement banner showing the warning to protesters in Causeway Bay before the annual handover march in Hong Kong, Wednesday, July 1, 2020. Hong Kong marked the 23rd anniversary of its handover to China in 1997, and just one day after China enacted a national security law that cracks down on protests in the territory. AP Photo: Vincent Yu)

By ZEN SOO, HONG KONG (AP):- Hong Kong police made their first arrests under a new national security law imposed by China’s central government, arresting at least two protesters Wednesday for carrying flags and signs calling for Hong Kong’s independence.

A man who had a Hong Kong independence flag was arrested at a protest in the city’s Causeway Bay shopping district after police had issued multiple warnings to the crowd that they might be in violation of the law, according to a police statement on Twitter.

Police later arrested a woman for holding up a sign displaying the British flag and calling for Hong Kong’s independence.

Further details were not immediately available. Hong Kong police said on Facebook they had arrested more than 70 people on various charges, from unlawful assembly to violation of the national security law.

The law makes secessionist, subversive, or terrorist activities illegal, as well as foreign intervention in the city’s internal affairs. Any person taking part in secessionist activities, such as shouting slogans or holding up banners and flags urging for the city’s independence, is in violation of the law regardless of whether violence is used.

The arrests come less than 24 hours after the national security law was imposed by China after last year’s anti-government protests in the semi-autonomous territory. The law took effect on Tuesday at 11 p.m. (1500 GMT).

The most serious offenders, such as those deemed to be masterminds behind the crimes, could receive a maximum punishment of life imprisonment. Lesser offenders could receive jail terms of up to three years, short-term detention or restriction.

Hong Kong’s leader strongly endorsed the new law in her speech marking Wednesday’s 23rd anniversary of the territory’s handover from colonial Britain.

“The enactment of the national law is regarded as the most significant development in the relationship between the central authorities and the HKSAR since Hong Kong’s return to the motherland,” chief executive Carrie Lam said in a speech, following a flag raising ceremony and the playing of China’s national anthem.

“It is also an essential and timely decision for restoring stability in Hong Kong,” she said.

A pro-democracy political party, The League of Social Democrats, organized a protest march during the flag-raising ceremony. About a dozen participants chanted slogans echoing demands from protesters last year for political reform and an investigation into accusation of police abuse.

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