Arrested Under New Law, Hong Kong Protesters Get Swabbed for DNA

Police collected DNA samples from them and searched their homes — both rare occurrences, if ever, in more than a year of pro-democracy demonstrations in the territory, according to Janet Pang, a lawyer for several of the protesters.Over the past 12 months, the protests have at times paralyzed the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. Hundreds of people have been detained, had their mobile phones confiscated and, in some cases, the information stored on them collected. Pang said she believes it is the first time genetic data has been taken from protesters arrested on minor charges.“It is unnecessary, intrusive and disproportionate,” she said. “I don’t know why they had to take DNA samples. We don’t know what kind of database they’re trying to build which might be sent back to the central government in Beijing.”Since its introduction last week, the legislation has sent a shudder through free speech proponents and prompted activists to dissolve political groups and shut down social media accounts. Hong Kong on Monday asserted sweeping new police powers — from warrant-less searches to online surveillance to property seizures — that risk spooking businesses.For more on Hong Kong’s security law:Hong Kong Gives Police Sweeping Powers Under China Security LawGoogle, Facebook, Twitter Pause Hong Kong Data RequestsMade-in-China Law Keeps Hong Kong Guessing Whether It’s GuiltyWhat Are the New Laws China Has Passed for Hong Kong?: QuickTakeXi’s Hong Kong Power Play Puts China Ever More at Odds With WestHong Kong police have had the authority to collect DNA samples for more than a decade, but it was typically only used in assault or drug cases, Pang said. The few protesters who had DNA samples taken from them by police had been charged with more serious offenses including weapons possession and attempted arson, she said.The move is a show of force from Beijing, which drafted the new security law behind closed doors, leaving residents of Hong Kong bracing for its impact and confused about how it will be applied. China already uses DNA data to keep track of its Uighur population, something critics argue is used for racial profiling and systemic discrimination against the ethnic group.It also represents a challenge to the protesters’ efforts to remain anonymous — which has included wearing masks or destroying surveillance cameras — to avoid retribution at their jobs or schools.‘Almost Unheard Of’“It seems to be uncalled for,” said Charles Mok, a legislator who represents the technology industry, who described the taking of DNA samples as “almost unheard of.” “The purpose of the collection is unclear, and given the often arbitrary nature of these arrests in recent months, such collection and possibly permanent storage of DNA data is worrisome and lacks oversight.”The U.S. and the U.K. have accused Beijing of violating its promise to maintain the city’s semi-autonomous territory for 50 years. Both officials in Beijing and Hong Kong have repeated assurances that the laws would only target a small number of people.Asked to explain the purpose of collecting the DNA data on protesters, Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s office directed all inquiries to the Hong Kong police. Police said that under existing law, officials have the authority to take “non-intimate” samples of DNA from the 10 who were arrested this week.The police said the samples were taken to prove — or disprove — that those arrested had committed the offenses. A spokesperson declined to elaborate.

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