Hong Kong police makes first arrest under new law but fine print raises questions

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong police detained a man on Wednesday holding a flag urging independence, the first arrest under a sweeping national security law introduced overnight, but the fine print on the man’s banner raised questions about his call.

A man stands next to a flag reading "Hong Kong Independence" as people protest the new security law during the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China from Britain, in Hong Kong, China July 1, 2019, in this picture obtained from social media. HONG KONG POLICE FORCE/via REUTERS

Pictures posted by police on Twitter showed the black flag with “Hong Kong independence” written in large English letters and Chinese characters.

“This is the first arrest made since the law has come into force,” police said of the man, seen in one picture wearing a black T-shirt with “Free Hong Kong” on it.

But a closer look at the picture showed a minuscule “no to” written in front of the call for independence.

Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment and it was not clear if the small letters would save the man from prosecution. There was no other detail about the man.

Twitter users were left scratching their heads.

“The flag says ‘No to Hong Kong Independence’. Is that subversive, too?” one user asked.

“No one read the fine print,” said another.

The security law, introduced by Beijing, punishes crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.

Waving an independence flag could be considered a crime of secession.

China says Hong Kong is an inalienable part of the country and calls for independence are anathema to the ruling Communist Party.

Reporting by Yanni Chow; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Robert Birsel