(New York, NY) – PEN America said today that the arrest of more than a dozen different Hong Kong pro-democracy figures represents yet another attempt to punish the government’s political opponents for expressing their dissent, this time while Hong Kongers and the international community are distracted by the global coronavirus pandemic.

On Saturday, Hong Kong police arrested 15 prominent figures of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, including media mogul Jimmy Lai and three former members of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, the city’s governing legislative body. According to a police announcement, each of the arrested pro-democracy figures will face criminal charges relating to their participation in protests last year.

“Hong Kong authorities are clearly attempting to exploit global focus on the coronavirus as cover to crack down on pro-democracy activists and advocates,” said Summer Lopez, senior director of Free Expression Programs at PEN America. “One would think authorities would have learned by now that retaliating against people for protesting only drives greater public grievances and strengthens the resolve to defend democracy in Hong Kong. The world is still watching, and we call on Hong Kong authorities to drop these politically motivated charges and respect the right of the people of Hong Kong to speak their minds.” 

PEN America is part of the PEN International movement of over 100 PEN centers globally. In a statement Saturday, PEN Hong Kong, the city’s PEN center, called for the Hong Kong government “to release all those arrested, to drop all charges and to bring to a halt this charade, which is intended to stifle the voice of civil society ahead of September’s Legislative Council elections.”

“We reiterate our sister center’s call for Hong Kong’s government to drop these charges,” said PEN America’s Lopez. “Hong Kong’s authorities must put an end to their practice of criminalizing protest and dissent.”

Within the past year, Hong Kong has seen massive demonstrations calling for greater democracy and for government reforms. In response, police have reportedly arrested over 7,000 demonstrators since last June. 

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT: Stephen Fee, Director of Communications, sfee@pen.org, +1 202 309 8892