Mass arrests among Hong Kong pro-democracy camp

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Hong Kong has arrested dozens 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.

Hong Kong’s security secretary has said their actions were “subversive”.

The arrests formed part of the largest crackdown since the law’s introduction.

Beijing imposed the legislation on the semi-autonomous territory in June, saying it was necessary to curb months of sometimes violent pro-democracy protests.

China’s government defended the arrests. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said they were needed to stop “external forces and individuals [colluding]to undermine China’s stability and security”.

But the crackdown on Wednesday appeared to confirm the fears of many who warned about the reach of the law, with Amnesty International saying the arrests are “the starkest demonstration yet of how the national security law has been weaponised to punish anyone who dares to challenge the establishment”.

What happened on Wednesday?

Early in the morning, police began a sweeping crackdown on Hong Kong’s opposition figures.

  • 53 people were arrested
  • About 1,000 national security officers were deployed
  • Police searched the home of already detained activist Joshua Wong
  • Police searched the offices of law firm 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 are thought to be three members of the Civic Party, seven members of the Democratic Party, 21 opposition district councillors, 13 candidates from the primaries, two academics behind the primaries strategy, and one US citizen and human rights lawyer from the raided law firm.

Well-known opposition figures are among the detained including James To, Lam Cheuk Ting, Lester Shum and Benny Tai, one of the initiators of the primaries. The US lawyer is John Clancey, chairman of the Asian Human Rights Commission.

Benny Tai
image captionBenny Tai was one of the architects of the primaries

Hours after the dawn arrests John Lee, Hong Kong’s security secretary, confirmed a group of people had been arrested as part of an operation targeting those suspected of “overthrowing” the city’s government.

The government will not tolerate “subversive” acts, he said, speaking at the city’s Legislative Council.

What were the primaries?

In July last year, an alliance of opposition parties ran independently organised primaries to see which of their candidates had the best chances in September’s election for the Legislative Council, Hong Kong’s parliament.

More than 600,000 people voted in the primaries. The election was later postponed, with officials citing concerns over the pandemic as the 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’s leader Carrie Lam had warned at the time the primaries could amount to subversion if the candidates intended to obstruct government policies through their election.

Hong Kong opposition activists
image captionIn July, Joshua Wong and Lester Shum had still hoped to run for LegCo

Several of the opposition figures planning to stand in the LegCo election have since been disqualified from running, including Joshua Wong and Lester Shum.

Former journalist Gwyneth Ho, who rose to prominence covering the 2019 protests and was later disqualified from running for LegCo, was also among those arrested on Wednesday.

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