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Canada, allies express ‘serious concern’ over mass arrests in Hong Kong

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WATCH: Hong Kong exercises its national security law to crack down on the pro-democracy movement – Jan 7, 2021

OTTAWA — Canada’s foreign affairs minister is joining counterparts from the U.S., Britain and Australia in condemning last week’s mass arrest of politicians and pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong.

Fifty-five people were arrested last week under a security law that China first imposed on the former British colony in the spring.

In a joint statement, Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne and his American, British and Australian counterparts say they had “serious concern” about the arrests.

Read more: ‘Gravely concerned’: Canada, Five Eyes allies call on Hong Kong to hold elections

They add that the National Security Law, which Chinese and Hong Kong authorities argue is necessary to maintain order in the city, is actually being used to crackdown on dissent and opposing political views.

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The four foreign ministers go on to say the security law violates the promises China made to uphold democratic rights and freedoms in Hong Kong when it took ownership of the city back from Britain in 1997.

Most of those arrested last week had taken part in an unofficial primary for a legislative election that was later postponed.

Authorities allege the primary was part of a plot to seize control of the legislature in order to paralyze government and force the city’s leader to resign.

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Riot police fire pepper guns at Hong Kong protesters – Sep 6, 2020

The 55 have not been charged, and all but three have been released on bail pending further investigation. Convictions could disqualify them from running for office.

The four foreign ministers said the next legislative election should include candidates representing a range of political opinions. Only half the city’s legislature is elected by popular vote.

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“We call on the Hong Kong and Chinese central authorities to respect the legally guaranteed rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong without fear of arrest and detention,” they wrote.

The statement was signed by Champagne, Marise Payne of Australia, Dominic Raab of the U.K. and Mike Pompeo of the United States.

Read more: 4 arrested in Hong Kong under new security law over social media posts

Separately, Pompeo announced Saturday that the U.S. is voiding longstanding restrictions on how its diplomats and others have contact with their counterparts in Taiwan, a self-governing island that China says should be under its rule.

The actions on Taiwan and Hong Kong will undoubtedly anger China, which views such moves as foreign interference in its internal affairs.

Click to play video 'Riot police fire pepper guns at Hong Kong protesters' Riot police fire pepper guns at Hong Kong protesters
Riot police fire pepper guns at Hong Kong protesters – Sep 6, 2020

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, which is in its final days, is also sending United Nations Ambassador Kelly Craft to Taiwan later this week. China has sharply criticized the upcoming visit, while Taiwan’s government has welcomed it.

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A statement issued Sunday by U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien condemned the arrests.

“The world cannot continue to pay heavy prices for its naiveté and complicity in Beiijing’s irresponsible and harmful practices — whether it is ending the rule of law in Hong Kong or not cooperating with health officials on the pandemic,” read the statement.

“The United States is examining further options to respond.”

With files from The Associated Press.