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American Priest Turned Lawyer in Hong Kong Faces China's Wrath but Keeps the Faith

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HONG KONG—In the 1960s, John Clancey was sent to Hong Kong from a small town in New York state to be a priest ministering to the city’s working poor. He stayed and ultimately turned himself into an advocate for the city’s powerless people.

More than half a century later, the lawyer faces years in prison for his role in the pro-democracy movement in his adopted home.

Mr. Clancey was one of dozens of activists arrested in last week’s roundup of opposition figures—the biggest since Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong six months ago. Police accused those targeted of subversion after holding an unofficial primary election last year as part of a plan to win a legislative majority and derail government policy.

During an interview at his office in downtown Hong Kong, Mr. Clancey, 79 years old, confirmed that he was arrested because he served as treasurer for a pro-democracy group that helped organize the primaries. Now a lawyer, Mr. Clancey is the first American detained under the new law, underscoring its wide reach and authorities’ willingness to wield it on locals and foreigners alike.

Police confiscated his American passport following his arrest, Mr. Clancey said, though he believes he doesn’t deserve any special treatment as a U.S. citizen. A spokesman for the U.S. Consulate declined to comment on his case, citing privacy laws. A Hong Kong government spokeswoman referred to previous statements saying the city would safeguard national security and “not tolerate any offense of subversion.”

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