New Zealand joins US and UK in condemning arrest of Hong Kong democracy activists

New Zealand is joining the United States and United Kingdom in condemning the arrest of anti-Beijing Hong Kong democracy activists over the weekend. 

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said on Monday the Government is concerned that more than a dozen public figures and democracy advocates were arrested, including members of Hong Kong's Legislative Council. 

"The rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are enshrined in the Basic Law for all people of Hong Kong," Peters said. 

Hong Kong police arrested 15 pro-democracy activists on Saturday, including Democratic Party founder Martin Lee and trade union leader Lee Cheuk-yang. 

They have been charged with offences including organising and joining "unlawful assemblies", relating to pro-democracy protests in 2019 against mainland China's control. 

"The arrests are especially disappointing at a time when we should be coming together internationally in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic," Peters said. 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US "condemns the arrest of pro-democracy advocates" in the former British colony, officially named the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China. 

"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'."

Hong Kong was returned to Beijing from Britain in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" approach that guaranteed broad freedoms and a high degree of autonomy. 

Britain's Foreign Office said the right to protest is "fundamental to Hong Kong's way of life" and urged authorities to avoid "actions that inflame tensions".

A spokesperson said, "The authorities should focus on rebuilding trust through a process of meaningful political dialogue."

The arrests have been defended by the Hong Kong government, with the city's Security Bureau insisting they were carried out within the law. 

“In Hong Kong, everyone is equal before the law ... No one has any special privileges,” a spokesperson said. 

Three of Hong Kong’s top judges have spoken out against the Chinese Communist Party, telling Reuters the independence of the city’s judicial system is under threat from Beijing.