The first expat to be arrested under Hong Kong’s new national security law called on local democracy activists not to give up hope, comparing their movement to Ireland’s struggle for self-rule.
John Clancey, a 79-year-old American lawyer and former Catholic priest, has become a potential source of unlikely tension between Washington and Beijing as US President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office.
He was stopped last week Along with 52 other activists in a crackdown that has raised concerns, China is deepening a purge of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement beyond prominent politicians, civil society groups and more peripheral supporters of the cause.
“Look at Irish history. . . They were completely desperate for so long, but they ended up being part of Ireland – they got a republic, ”Mr Clancey told the Financial Times.
“In a difficult situation, we must not just give up and have no hope for the future.”
Mr Clancey was still asleep when police arrived to arrest him last Wednesday. After his arrest, police escorted Mr. Clancey, a permanent resident of Hong Kong, to his office to conduct a search. His firm, headed by seasoned lawyer Albert Ho, is known to represent anti-government activists.
His arrest has raised concerns that authorities are targeting Hong Kong lawyers who represent opposition figures in political matters – a common tactic in mainland China.
Prior to moving to Asia, Mr. Clancey was instrumental in voter registration during the American civil rights movement of the 1960s, in which he said he became a fan of Martin Luther King.
He began working as a Catholic priest in Hong Kong in 1968 and eventually left the priesthood to marry in 1985. He converted to a lawyer in his fifties after working with labor rights activists.
The lawyer said the city had already experienced similar periods of desperation over the prospects for democracy, such as under British colonial rule. “During those dark days, people were asking for democracy and it didn’t look like hope at all,” he said. “In the long run, I’m still optimistic,” adding that it was “good for China and Hong Kong”.
Mr Clancey’s arrest has been linked to his role as treasurer of Power for Democracy, a civil society group that was involved in a primary vote organized by the Hong Kong opposition last year to determine which candidates stand would stand for election to the Legislative Council, the city of de facto parliament. He was released after his arrest and has yet to be charged.
The city government subsequently postponed the elections.
The government accused those arrested last Wednesday of trying to “subvert” the power of the Chinese state by organizing the second round. Subversion is punishable by life imprisonment under the new security law.
Taken by surprise by the force of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2019, Beijing criticized foreigners for sparking protests that often ended in violent clashes.
Expatriate lawyers are dotted around the city’s internationally respected legal system, which underpins its role as a financial hub.
The US consulate general has offered assistance to Mr. Clancey, said a person familiar with the matter.
Mr Clancey, however, said he did not expect any special treatment based on his citizenship, but only on his rights as a permanent resident under Hong Kong’s mini constitution, which includes the right to vote. He said he did not intend to flee the city.