Hong Kong has arrested a number of pro-democracy activists and politicians, accusing them of trying to “overthrow” the city’s government.
The group, arrested under a controversial new security law, were involved in an unofficial “primary” vote to select opposition candidates ahead of postponed 2020 elections.
The Hong Kong Secretary of Security said their move was “subversive”.
The arrests formed part of the largest crackdown since the law’s introduction.
Beijing introduced the law in a private area in June, saying it needed to curb months of violent and sometimes uncontrolled pro-democratic protests.
The Chinese government protected the nature of the arrests. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said they were needed to prevent “foreigners and people working together to undermine China’s stability and security”.
But Wednesday’s crackdown on pro-democracy activists seemed to confirm the fears of many who had warned of the rule of law, Amnesty International said the arrests were “the worst example of how national security law has been used to punish anyone who dares to challenge the establishment”.
Early in the morning, the police launched a massive crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong.
- 53 people were arrested
- About 1 000 national security personnel are still deployed
- Police searched the home of already-arrested activist Joshua Wong
- Police searched the offices of Ho Tse Wai & Partners
- Three news outlets were asked to hand over information: Apple Daily and Stand News had co-organised election forums for the primaries candidates, while In-Media ran ads around the primaries
Among those arrested were three members of the Civic Party, seven members of the Democratic Party, 21 opposition regional councilors, 13 candidates for the primary election, two academics supporting the primaries, and one American citizen and a human rights lawyer attacked by a law firm. .
Known opposition figures are among the detainees including James To, Lam Cheuk Ting, Lester Shum and Benny Tai, one of the founders of the primaries. The US attorney is John Clancey, chairman of the Asian Human Rights Commission.
After hours of arrests, John Lee, Hong Kong’s security secretary, confirmed that a number of people had been arrested as part of a crackdown on those accused of “overthrowing” the city government.
The government will not tolerate acts of “rebellion”, he said in a statement to the city’s Legal Council.
In July last year, a coalition of opposition parties held a by-election to determine which of the candidates were the best candidates in the September elections for the Legislative Council of Hong Kong.
More than 600,000 people voted in the primaries. Elections have been postponed for some time, with officials expressing concern about COVID as a reason for the delay.
The opposition groups had hoped that winning more seats would give them enough power to block government proposals and increase pressure for democratic reforms.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam had warned at the time that primaries would be in jeopardy if candidates ran to disrupt government elections.
Several opposition candidates planning to stand for LegCo elections have been barred from running, including Joshua Wong and Lester Shum.
Former journalist Gwyneth Ho, who rose to prominence in the 2019 protests and was later barred from joining LegCo, was also among those arrested on Wednesday.
Most opposition lawmakers in the current LegCo resigned in November in large numbers, indicating that four of them had been expelled from parliament.
The campaign has shocked people in Hong Kong and will have a devastating effect on the liberation struggle, activists said.
“To see the news today I am completely shocked. I feel very disappointed. It looks like such big things are happening in Hong Kong and there is nothing we can do about it. I feel very unhappy and it seems that even during the pandemic the government can do a lot to scare people,” said Mannie Ng, a Hong Kong resident. told Reuters news agency.
Wednesday’s sweeping arrests have been widely condemned internationally.
Antony Blinken, the newly appointed United States Secretary of State by President-elect Joe Biden, said he was “attacking those who are fighting for the rights of all people”.
“The Biden-Harris administration will work with the people of Hong Kong and oppose Beijing’s anti-democracy campaign.”
US Senator Ben Sasse, member of the Select Committee on Intelligence, warned that Beijing was timing the crackdown to coincide with the global attention focused on the US.
Chinese President Xi Jinping “sees a divided and distracted America, and he isn’t wasting the moment”, the senator said. “These despicable raids expose the Chinese Communist Party for the cowardly dictators they are.”
Maya Wang, a Chinese specialist at Human Rights Watch, said China is now “removing the remaining democratic conditions in the city”.
“Beijing has also failed to learn from its Hong Kong mistakes: that oppression creates resistance, and that millions of Hong Kong people will continue in their struggle for their right to vote and run for office in a democratically elected government,” she said.
Nathan Law, a prominent Hong Kong activist who fled the area in July last year, said mass arrests had taken “suppression of political freedom and freedom of speech” to another level.
“Anyone who still defends national security law and makes peace is an enemy of the people of Hong Kong.”