The federal government has revealed that a dual Australian-Chinese national is being prosecuted under Hong Kong’s national security law and could be sentenced to life in prison, in a development that risks further inflaming tensions between Canberra and Beijing.
The department said it was in ‘regular contact’ with the man’s attorneys
Hong Kong officials warned last year that people with dual nationality would no longer be entitled to consular assistance
Officials revealed an Australian man was detained under the National Security Act during Senate estimates hearings in October last year
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) did not name the man, but says he was arrested on Jan. 6 last year. It indicates he is one of 47 Hong Kong pro-democracy activists and politicians detained that day as part of a wider crackdown on civil society in the city.
The department says the man was arrested for “conspiracy to overthrow state power.” He was released on bail the next day but was later rearrested on March 1 as he appeared in court and charged with “subversion”.
He has spent the past 11 months in prison and could face a heavy sentence under the National Security Law, which aims to extinguish political opposition to the Chinese Communist Party in the former British colony.
The laws allow authorities to impose long prison terms for vaguely worded crimes, including colluding with foreign countries and encouraging “succession”. The penalty for subversion ranges from ten years to life in prison.
The department also revealed that Australian authorities have repeatedly been denied consular access to the man because Hong Kong authorities no longer recognize dual nationality.
“The Australian Consulate General in Hong Kong has been notified by Hong Kong authorities of the arrest of a dual Australian-Chinese citizen under its national security law in January 2021,” a doorman said. DFAT speaking to the ABC.
“Officials from our Consulate General attended subsequent hearings.
“However, we were denied consular access despite multiple attempts because the individual is considered a Chinese citizen under Chinese citizenship laws, which do not recognize dual citizenship.”
The department said it was in “regular contact” with the man’s attorneys and would “continue to attend future court hearings.”
Hong Kong officials warned last year that people with dual citizenship in the territory would no longer be eligible for consular assistance, prompting Australia and the UK to change travel advice for the city.
Hong Kong media HK01 reported in March last year that political activist Gordon Ng Ching-hang was an Australian citizen.
Mr Ng was arrested on January 6 and is currently in custody awaiting trial on subversion charges, but the Foreign Office has not named the Australian citizen.
Natasha Kassam of the Lowy Institute said that although the Chinese government has never officially recognized dual nationality, Hong Kong authorities have discretion to allow consular visits to foreign passport holders.
“The situation in Hong Kong used to be more liberal in terms of consular access, but that has clearly changed,” she told the ABC.
“As Chinese authorities interpret the rules more narrowly and are less receptive to pressure from foreign governments, it looks like a zero-tolerance approach to dual nationals will become the norm.”
Officials first revealed that an Australian had been detained under the National Security Act during Senate Estimates hearings in October last year, but did not provide any details until now.
Over 160 people in Hong Kong have been arrested under the laws, while over 100 of them have been charged.
National Security Police last week arrested 75-year-old pro-democracy activist Koo Sze-yiu, who is battling advanced cancer, with state media reporting that he would be charged with “incitement to subversion of state power”.
There has also been an exodus from the city as the political climate becomes increasingly hostile, with dozens of activists fleeing to the UK, Australia and Taiwan.
The UK says it expected up to 300,000 Hong Kongers to migrate there under a recently unveiled passport scheme.
International human rights groups and several Western governments have repeatedly criticized the national security law, accusing the Chinese government of breaking its promise during the handover to ensure residents of the city fundamental political freedoms.
Australian officials say the city’s institutions are now being systematically dismantled by the Chinese state.
Last month, Foreign Secretary Marise Payne and Defense Minister Peter Dutton – along with their British counterparts – said the crackdown had “fundamentally undermined Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms and eliminated any meaningful political opposition.” “.
The spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said that “Australia and many other countries have expressed concern over the erosion of fundamental freedoms and autonomy in Hong Kong and have called on the authorities to Hong Kong and China to meet their human rights obligations.”
The ABC has approached Hong Kong authorities for comment.