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Protesters in Hong Kong on  June 16.
Protesters in Hong Kong on June 16.

Artist Sanmu Chan Detained by Chinese Officials for Ties to Pro-Democracy Protests in Hong Kong

On Monday, Beijing–born, Hong Kong–based artist and curator Sanmu Chan was detained by mainland Chinese police as he was going through immigration control at Lo Wu railway station in Hong Kong, reports ArtAsiaPacific. Chan was held for nearly eight hours at the Shenzhen police station in mainland China and was interrogated under suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a crime that has been used as the basis to arrest activists and that carries a maximum five-year sentence. He was then released and sent back to Hong Kong.

Chan has publicly supported the ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, which erupted in June in response to a proposed extradition bill that would allow the government to send suspected criminals to mainland China for trial. Since then, thousands of people have participated in the demonstrations, which now encompass calls for the resignation of Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam; pro-independence legislation; and an end to police brutality. The authorities in Hong Kong have used tear gas, bricks, and rubber bullets against civilians—the clashes are thought to be the worst political crisis since the UK handed control of Hong Kong to China in 1997.

In early July, Chan designed a protest banner reading, “There are no rioters, only tyranny,” criticizing the government’s characterization of protesters as rioters. Later, on July 27, the artist installed black, wooden sculptures in criticism of the Hong Kong police for what many believe was willful negligence when a mob attacked protesters and passersby.

From 2016 until earlier this year, Chan was also the owner of the publicly funded community art nonprofit Green Wave Art, which hosted exhibitions, concerts, readings, and workshops. In April, the Hong Kong Arts Development Council forced it to close, allegedly for lacking an official license to be a “place of public entertainment.” The decision was decried by members of the Hong Kong art scene as a case of political censorship.

According to reports in local news outlets HK01 and Stand News, Chan said he was aggressively questioned and intimidated by two officers during this week’s detainment. The police asked him about his involvement in the recent protests, citing the banner as well as details of Chan’s personal meetings with friends, including times, locations, and names. They did not give him a reason for the detention until after he signed a statement promising not to participate in illegal gatherings in the future. Chan told ArtAsiaPacific that he was publicizing the experience to warn other protesters in Hong Kong.