HONG KONG/SINGAPORE – The founder of a banned Hong Kong independence party has been arrested in a raid where offensive weapons and explosives were found, a senior police source said on Friday as the city reels from weeks of anti-government protests.
In a statement, police said eight people — seven men and one woman — were arrested at an industrial building on Thursday evening in the district of Sha Tin on charges of possession of an offensive weapon and possession of explosives without a license.
The statement did not identify the individuals arrested. But a senior police source said that independence activist Andy Chan was among those detained.
“Andy Chan was arrested inside a premise with (a) gasoline bomb seized,” the source said, asking not to be identified.
Chan’s independence party — the Hong Kong National Party — was outlawed last year on the grounds it posed a national security threat, the first such ban since 1997.
His party contained only a few dozen members but its formation infuriated Beijing, which sees calls for independence as an absolute red line.
The banning of his party — and the expulsion of a Financial Times journalist who chaired a talk with Chan at the city’s press club before the party was outlawed — were held up as two examples of sliding freedoms in Hong Kong as Beijing clamps down on dissent.
In Washington on Thursday, President Donald Trump labeled the protests “riots,” adopting the language used by Chinese authorities and suggesting the U.S. would stay out of an issue that is “between Hong Kong and China.”
“Something is probably happening with Hong Kong, because when you look at, you know, what’s going on, they’ve had riots for a long period of time,” Trump told reporters.
He said he doesn’t know what China’s attitude is on the matter. “Somebody said that at some point they’re going to want to stop that,” Trump said. “But that’s between Hong Kong and that’s between China, because Hong Kong is a part of China.”
Trump’s hands-off approach to the protests in Hong Kong could bolster the territory’s Beijing-backed government, despite the State Department’s official efforts to defend protesters’ freedom of expression.
China has recently sought to blame the U.S. for crimes committed by some protesters on the front lines of rallies, saying violence was the “creation of the U.S.” and calling the country a “black hand” behind the demonstrations. Tying the U.S. to the unrest could serve several purposes for Beijing, including discrediting the protesters, rallying mainland sentiment against them and potentially justifying more direct intervention.
In his remarks, Trump signaled that he considered the issue China’s internal matter to resolve. “They’ll have to deal with that themselves,” he said. “They don’t need advice.”
Semi-autonomous Hong Kong has endured two months of protests that began with a government bid to introduce a law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China.
The demonstrations evolved into a movement for deeper democratic reforms and an end to eroding freedoms, in the most significant challenge to Beijing’s rule since the city’s handover from Britain in 1997.