06 January 2021

American lawyer arrested in Hong Kong crackdown

John Clancey believed to be first foreign national detained under new security law

By Ben Rigby

The anti-National Security Law protest in Hong Kong on 24 May

The anti-National Security Law protest in Hong Kong on 24 May PaulWong/Shutterstock

John Clancey, a partner at Ho Tse Wai & Partners, has been arrested by Hong Kong police, who also raided the offices of his law firm in Central, Hong Kong’s business district. 

The American human rights lawyer was arrested as part of a crackdown on pro-democracy activism, which saw more than fifty individuals arrested for alleged subversion under the terms of Hong Kong’s controversial national security law, which was imposed by Beijing on the Special Administrative Region last year.

Clancey, a Hong Kong solicitor since handover in 1997, has served as the chairman of the Asian Human Rights Commission and the Asian Legal Resource Center. He is believed to be the first foreign national detained under the new law. 

He is also a founding member of the executive committee of the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, and spoke at a roundtable discussion on the national security law hosted by the Law Society of Hong Kong last summer.  

According to the Hong Kong Free Press, Clancey acted as the treasurer of a pan-democratic group, Power for Democracy, which helped organise unofficial primary elections for legislative candidates, in which more than 600,000 voters had participated. Speaking at his arrest, Clancey said: “We need to work for democracy and human rights in Hong Kong.”

Ho Tse Wai & Partners, founded by veteran lawyer Albert Ho, issued a statement saying the investigation was unrelated to the work of the firm, that client confidentiality had not been breached, and the “operations of the firm are going on as usual”.

The scale of the arrests, aimed at pro-democracy lawmakers, councillors, and activists, is the largest such sweep to date, and follows the expulsion of legislators from Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, including legal services representative, barrister, Dennis Kwok, last year. 

Chinese government sources were reported as saying the arrests were necessary to stop “external forces and individuals in Hong Kong [colluding] with each other to attempt to undermine China's stability and security".

Anthony Blinken, US Secretary of State-elect, condemned the arrests, as an “assault on those bravely advocating for universal rights”, and that the incoming Biden Administration would stand with the people of Hong Kong.  

Similar protests were raised by US, EU and UK politicians, while the chair of the Bar Council of England & Wales’ human rights committee, Schona Jolly QC, said the news was “deeply disturbing”.

The president of the Law Society of Hong Kong, Melissa Pang, declined comment to local media when informed of the arrest.  

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