Police on Tuesday arrested two men and a woman between the ages of 17 and 21 in connection with a separatist remark on social media.
Student Localism, a one-time pro-independence group, identified the trio with former convener Tony Chung and former members William Chan and Yani Ho on Facebook.
According to the Friends of Hong Kong, an activist group based in the United Kingdom, Chung was planning to seek asylum at the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong before being arrested.
The Hong Kong branch of the organization said the ban on secession, coup d’മായുള്ളtat and alliances with foreign forces was lifted soon after the Chinese authorities imposed the National Security Act on the city.
Chung and others still living in Hong Kong allege that the city continues to advocate for independence from China. The offense is punishable by up to three to 10 years in prison or life imprisonment for crimes of a “serious nature”. Defendant indicated that he had nothing to do with the separatist posts.
A Hong Kong government spokesman told CNN on Wednesday that it would not comment on media reports of the arrests. But he said there was no justification for calling it a political asylum for the people of Hong Kong.
“People in Hong Kong must be prosecuted for actions that are against the laws of Hong Kong, regardless of their political beliefs or background. Moreover, the trial is conducted by an independent judiciary in accordance with the principles of the rule of law,” he added.
However, providing asylum to activists within Hong Kong is a huge increase, and could lead to a diplomatic storm in Washington and Beijing, which could disrupt the future of the Hong Kong consulate itself.
CNN reached out to the US Consulate General in Hong Kong, Hong Kong and the Macau office for comment.
Circumstances surrounding Tang’s surrender remain unclear, but fears that the United States could have shut down if it had continued to seek refuge inside the San Francisco consulate. U.S. officials may be embarrassed to shelter rebels in Hong Kong, the most important U.S. mission in Greater China since the Beijing embassy.
When the consulate was established earlier this year, some Chinese state media outlets called for the closure of the Hong Kong consulate, accusing it of carrying out US-influenced activities. While Beijing now appears to be avoiding further escalation, the loss of the Hong Kong mission would be a major setback for Washington, both diplomatically and practically, given Hong Kong’s economic importance and the number of Americans living in the city.
Contributed to CNN’s Eric Cheung Reporting.