Police say two men and a woman, aged between 17 and 21, were arrested Tuesday in connection with a territorial dispute on social media.
Studentlocalism, a pro-independence group at the time, identified three people on Facebook as co-founders Tony Tony, and former members William Chan and Yanni Ho.
According to Friends of Hong Kong, a well-known British activist organization, he said he had worked with Chung and planned to seek asylum at the US Consulate in Hong Kong before his arrest.
The organization’s Hong Kong branch says it was abolished shortly after the National Security Act was forced on the city by Chinese authorities to ban secession, subversion and clashes with foreign forces.
Police have accused Chung and others living in Hong Kong of pursuing the city’s independence from China, a crime punishable by three to 10 years in prison or life in prison for “grave acts”. Defendants have denied any involvement with the allegedly leaked text.
A Hong Kong government spokesman told CNN on Wednesday that it would not comment on media reports of the arrests, but said there would be no reason for the so-called “political asylum for people in Hong Kong.”
“It should be emphasized that the people of Hong Kong are being prosecuted for acts contrary to Hong Kong’s rule of law, regardless of their political beliefs or background. Moreover, the trial is being conducted by an independent judge according to the rule of law,” he added.
Providing asylum to activists within Hong Kong itself would be a significant increase, however, and could spark diplomatic fires for both Washington and Beijing, potentially jeopardizing Hong Kong’s own future.
CNN contacted the US Consulate in Hong Kong and the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office for comment.
The circumstances of Tang’s surrender remain unclear, but it may have been fueled by fears that the United States may move to close the San Francisco consulate if he continues to live inside. Similar concerns could make US officials less embarrassed to grant asylum to dissidents in Hong Kong, the United States’ most important mission in China after the Beijing embassy.
As the consulate ended earlier this year, some Chinese state-run media outlets called for the closure of the Hong Kong consulate, accusing the United States of operating under its influence. As Beijing appears to be shining a bigger increase for now, the loss of the Hong Kong mission will have a significant impact on Washington, both diplomatically and operationally, given the economic importance of Hong Kong and the number of Americans living in the city.