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EU calls for 'immediate release' of Hong Kong activists

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

American human rights lawyer John Clancey, center, is arrested by police in Hong Kong Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. Clancey was the treasurer of the political group Power for Democracy, which was involved in the unofficial primaries. About 50 Hong Kong pro-democracy figures were arrested by police on Wednesday under a national security law, following their involvement in an unofficial primary election last year held to increase their chances of controlling the legislature, according to local media reports. (AP Photo/Apple Daily)

BRUSSELS – The European Union called for the immediate release Wednesday of the 53 former lawmakers and pro-democracy activists who have been arrested in Hong Kong after being accused of violating a new security law.

The mass arrests, including of former lawmakers, were the largest crackdown on Hong Kong’s democracy movement since the law was imposed by China last June to quell dissent in the semi-autonomous territory.

EU spokesman Peter Stano told a press conference that the arrests send the “signal that political pluralism is no longer tolerated in Hong Kong.” He added that the security law is being used “to crush dissent and stifle the exercise of human rights and political freedoms.”

Stano did not exclude the possibility of sanctions against China, saying that EU authorities and member nations are currently “thinking about the best measures to take to react.”

Stano said the issue could be discussed during a meeting of the bloc’s foreign affairs ministers later this month but insisted unanimity among EU nations will be required to green light sanctions.

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The crackdown in Hong Kong took place only days after the European Union sealed a business investment deal with China despite concerns about the human rights situation in the country. EU Commission chief spokesman Eric Mamer separated the two topics, saying the EU is working with China “in a different way, in different areas.”

China is the bloc’s second-biggest trading partner behind the United States, and the EU is China’s biggest trading partner. China and Europe trade on average over 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion) a day.

“Of course we have a separate line of dialogue with China on the rule of law and democracy,” Mamer said.