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Hong Kong pro-democracy group denounces Chinese agents 'scare tactics'

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By Reuters
Hong Kong pro-democracy group denounces Chinese agents 'scare tactics'
FILE PHOTO: Nathan Law (C), candidate from Demosisto campaigns with student activist Joshua Wong on election day for the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, China September 4, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu   -   Copyright  Tyrone Siu(Reuters)

By James Pomfret

HONGKONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s leading youth pro-democracy party, Demosisto, accused Chinese State Security agents of using “scare tactics” to intimidate two activists briefly detained for questioning earlier this year during visits to the mainland.

The Ministry of State Security couldn’t be immediately reached for comment on the two incidents, while the Hong Kong government’s Security Bureau gave no immediate response to a Reuters request for comment.

Demosisto withheld the names of the two party members, one of whom subsequently quit the party.

One was held for questioning for five hours during a visit to a city in China’s southern Guangdong province earlier this month, and the other was questioned in March during a trip to another city in the same province.

“We’re not just talking about a simple dialogue with no harm or no threat, we’re talking about our members being detained with a hostile attitude,” said Nathan Law, a founding member of Demosisto and an elected lawmaker who was disqualified from public office by authorities last July.

“It’s definitely a scare tactic,” he told reporters.

The activist held in the most recent incident had recounted how an agent had described Demosisto’s advocacy of Hong Kong’s right to self determination and greater autonomy as being akin to “inciting subversion”.

A copy of China’s national security and counter-espionage laws was placed on the table during the interrogation, and the activist was persuaded to sign an “apology letter” before being released and allowed to return to Hong Kong.

In the incident in March, a Demosisto member was picked up in Guangzhou city and taken to a room in a hotel for questioning, before being allowed to return home.

“What we are afraid of is (that) under this kind of hardline of President Xi (Jinping), this kind of situation will be more common in future,” said Demosisto leader Joshua Wong.

In recent years, pro-democracy groups in Hong Kong have decried what they see as China’s Communist leaders’ increased suppression of civil liberties and democratic reforms.

Earlier this month, China’s Foreign Ministry publicly rebuked Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) for inviting a pro-independence activist, Andy Chan, to give a speech at the club.

Calls have since grown from Chinese officials and pro-Beijing politicians for the city to enact tough new national security laws known as Article 23 legislation.

Hong Kong reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997 under a so-called “one country, two systems” arrangement which guarantees a high degree of autonomy.

Hong Kong-born citizens are allowed to travel freely into China on special “re-entry” permits, but many vocal critics of Beijing, and prominent democrats, are often barred from entering.

(Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)