Lam Cheuk-ting raises a fist after being released on bail over anti-govt protests, in Hong Kong, China. File/Reuters
Gulf Today Report
Hong Kong police arrested about 50 former lawmakers and pro-democracy activists Wednesday on suspicion of breaking the city’s national security law.
The mass arrests, including of former lawmakers, were the largest move against Hong Kong’s democracy movement, local media reported, in the biggest crackdown yet against the democratic opposition under the new law.
"The operation today targets the active elements who are suspected to be involved in the crime of overthrowing, or interfering (and) seriously destroy the Hong Kong government’s legal execution of duties,” said John Lee, Hong Kong’s security minister, in a news conference.
The Democratic Party’s Facebook page said police arrested the activists for participating in an independently organised ballot last year to select democratic candidates for a legislature election, which the Hong Kong government and Beijing warned at the time may violate the new law.
The arrests in the Asian financial hub included well known democratic figures and former lawmakers James To, Lam Cheuk-ting and Lester Shum, according to the Democratic Party’s Facebook page and public broadcaster RTHK.
Police did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In a video released by former lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting on his Facebook page, police turned up at his house and told him he was "suspected of violating the national security law, subverting state power.” Police told those recording the video to stop or risk arrest.
The legislative election was due in September but has been postponed, with authorities citing coronavirus risks.
The attempt to win a majority in the 70-seat city legislature, which some candidates said could be used to block government proposals and increase pressure for democratic reforms, was seen as an “act of subversion, in violation of the national security law,” the party said.
The security law was imposed by Beijing on the former British colony in June.
It punishes what China broadly defines as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in jail and has been condemned by the West and human rights groups as a tool to crush dissent in the semi-autonomous, Chinese-ruled city.
Authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing say it is vital to plug gaping holes in national security defences exposed by months of sometimes violent anti-government and anti-China protests that rocked the global financial hub in 2019.
Since the imposition of the security law, leading pro-democracy activists such as media tycoon Jimmy Lai have been arrested, some democratic lawmakers have been disqualified, activists have fled into exile, and protest slogans and songs have been declared illegal.
Joshua Wong, 24, one of Hong Kong’s most prominent democracy activists, was one of more than a dozen young, more confrontational politicians who outshone old guard democrats in the unofficial primary elections last July.
Wong’s Twitter and Facebook accounts said his house was raided by police in the morning.
Wong was jailed last year on separate charges for organising and inciting an unlawful assembly during the 2019 anti government protests.
The success of young contenders in the democratic primaries, which Beijing said were illegal, came amid widespread resentment of a national security law that Beijing imposed last month.
In December, a Chinese court sentenced 10 of the 12 to between seven months and three years in jail. Defendants Tang Kai-yin and Quinn Moon, who were sentenced to three and two years, respectively, remain in Shenzhen.
If the defendants are denied bail, it would mean that most of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy figures would be in jail or in self-exile abroad amid an ongoing crackdown on dissent in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
The activists are accused of organising and participating in an unofficial primary poll last July aimed at selecting the strongest candidates for a legislative council election that the government later postponed, citing the coronavirus.
Hong Kong traditionally holds the largest vigil in the world every year, although it was banned in 2020, with authorities giving the risk of spreading the coronavirus as the reason. The vigils have always been banned in mainland China.
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