HONG KONG – Hong Kong police arrested around 50 pro-democracy people on Wednesday for allegedly violating the new national security law by participating in an unofficial primary election held last year according to political parties and local media to their Increase the chances of legislative scrutiny.
Those arrested on suspicion of subversion included former lawmakers and pro-democracy activists South china morning post and online platform Now News reports.
The mass arrests were the largest move against the democracy movement in Hong Kong since Beijing introduced the national security law in the semi-autonomous area in June last year. The police did not immediately comment on the arrests.
At least seven members of the Hong Kong Democratic Party – the city’s largest opposition party – were arrested, including former party leader Wu Chi-wai. Former lawmakers Helena Wong, Lam Cheuk-ting and James To were also arrested, according to a post on the party’s Facebook page.
Benny Tai, a key figure in the 2014 Occupy Central protests in Hong Kong and a former law professor, was also arrested by police, according to local media reports. Tai was one of the main organizers of the primaries.
The home of Joshua Wong, a prominent pro-democracy activist who was serving a 13 1/2 month sentence last year for organizing and participating in an unauthorized protest, was also ransacked, according to a tweet from Wong’s report.
According to local media reports of the arrests, all pro-democracy candidates who participated in the unofficial primaries have been arrested.
Police also went to the headquarters of Stand News, a well-known pro-democracy online news site in Hong Kong, with a court order to hand over documents to assist in an investigation into the national security law. This is evident from a live stream video from Stand News. No arrests were made.
In recent months, Hong Kong has arrested several pro-democracy activists, including Wong and Agnes Chow, for participating in anti-government protests. Others have been charged under national security law, including media magnate and outspoken pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai.
The Security Act criminalizes subversion, secession, terrorism, and colluding with foreign powers to interfere in city affairs. Serious offenders could face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Pro-democracy activists and lawmakers held an unofficial primary last July to find out which candidates they should use in a now postponed general election to increase their chances of a majority of seats in the legislature. A majority would allow the pro-democracy camp to vote against bills they believe to be Beijing, blocking budgets and crippling the government.
More than 600,000 Hong Kong residents voted in the primaries, despite pro-Beijing lawmakers and politicians criticizing the event, warning that it might violate the security law Beijing imposed on the city to quell dissent after months of protests against the government.
Hong Kong executive director Carrie Lam said last July that if the primaries are aimed at opposing any political initiative by the Hong Kong government, it could fall under the undermining of state power, a criminal offense under national security law.
Beijing has also ruled the primaries illegal, calling it a “serious provocation” of the Hong Kong electoral system.
After the British surrender of Hong Kong to China in 1997, the semi-autonomous Chinese city operated a “one country, two systems” framework that offers it freedoms that cannot be found on the mainland. In recent years, Beijing has gained more control of the city, criticizing it for attacking Hong Kong’s freedoms.
The general election, originally slated for September, was later postponed for a year after Lam stated that holding elections would pose a public health risk in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. The pro-democracy camp condemned the postponement as unconstitutional.
In November, all pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong resigned en masse after Beijing passed a resolution that disqualified four of its camps and left behind a largely pro-Beijing legislature.
“Beijing has again failed to learn from its mistakes in Hong Kong: this repression creates resistance and millions of people in Hong Kong will continue to fight for their right to vote and run for office in a democratically elected government,” said Human Rights chief Chinese researcher at Watch , Maya Wang said in a statement on Wednesday’s arrests.
In further remarks to The Associated Press, Wang said it was not clear what provisions of the law were cited to justify the arrests, but local authorities appeared to be less concerned with the legal substance.
“The national security law is a draconian blanket law that allows the government to arrest people for exercising their constitutionally protected rights, and possibly detain them for long periods of time,” said Wang.
“The veneer of the rule of law is applied without any meaning in mainland China. Hong Kong looks more like mainland China, but where one ends and the other begins is hard to see, ”she said.