April 19, 2020 / 2:53 AM / 2 months ago

U.S. condemns arrests of Hong Kong democracy activists

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addresses the daily coronavirus task force briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 8, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration on Saturday condemned Hong Kong’s arrests of 15 activists, including veteran politicians, a publishing tycoon and senior barristers, describing them as “inconsistent” with China’s international commitments.

The raids mark the biggest crackdown on the pro-democracy movement since the beginning of anti-government protests across the former British colony in June last year.

“The United States condemns the arrest of pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.

“Beijing and its representatives in Hong Kong continue to take actions inconsistent with commitments made under the Sino-British Joint Declaration that include transparency, the rule of law, and guarantees that Hong Kong will continue to ‘enjoy a high degree of autonomy’,” Pompeo said.

U.S. President Donald Trump last November signed into law legislation backing protesters in Hong Kong despite angry objections from Beijing.

The legislation requires the State Department to certify, at least annually, that Hong Kong retains enough autonomy to justify favorable U.S. trading terms that have helped it maintain its position as a world financial center. The law also threatens sanctions for human rights violations.

In a separate statement, U.S. Attorney General William Barr called the arrests “the latest assault on the rule of law and the liberty of the people of Hong Kong.”

“These events show how antithetical the values of the Chinese Communist Party are to those we share in Western liberal democracies,” he added, saying the arrests and other actions “demonstrate once again that the Chinese Communist Party cannot be trusted.”

Among those detained on charges of illegal assembly were Democratic Party founder Martin Lee, 81, publishing tycoon Jimmy Lai, 71, and former lawmaker and barrister Margaret Ng, 72, according to media and political sources.

Reporting By Matt Spetalnick and Sarah Lynch; Editing by Sam Holmes

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