Police have been urged to release 17 democracy activists, who remain in custody 24 hours after they were arrested over a sit-in protest at the Golden Bauhinia monument on Wednesday – the eve of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the city.

“Police are unreasonably holding them in custody. This is no good. You do this because you want to stop them participating in protests. But instead, you will only draw more people to the street,” lawmaker Tanya Chan said outside the North Point Police Station on Thursday, where the activists were held.

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The activists at the sit-in in Wan Chai. Photo: Dan Garrett.

Update: Hong Kong releases all democracy activists arrested at protest against Pres. Xi Jinping

The remarks came a day after 26 activists staged a three-hour sit-in at the Golden Bauhinia Square in defiance of Beijing.

The site is popular with mainland tourists and flag raising ceremonies are held at the square every day.

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Photo: Dan Garrett.

The group demanded full democracy for Hong Kong and China, and urged Chinese authorities to release Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, who was granted medical parole this week due to late-stage liver cancer but remains in the mainland.

Police began arresting the activists one by one at around 8:30pm, citing laws against public nuisance. They were sent to the North Point Police Station.

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Photo: Dan Garrett.

Only nine people had been released after nearly 24 hours following the arrests.

HKFP LIVE: Police move in as Hong Kong pro-democracy activists stage a sit-in on the eve of President Xi Jinping’s arrival in city.

Posted by Hong Kong Free Press HKFP on Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Those still in detention include Demosisto’s Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Agnes Chow, the League of Social Democrats’ Leung Kwok-hung, Avery Ng and Raphael Wong, and People Power’s Tam Tak-chi.

Demosisto said in a statement that two of its members arrested – Prince Wong Ji-yuet and Oz Choi Chun-yin – were not feeling well and were sent to hospital.

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Joshua Wong is arrested. Photo: Dan Garrett.

Around 20 hours since his arrest, Avery Ng posted on Twitter a photo of himself inside the police station, saying that he used his phone against police instructions. The background of the photo showed lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung and several police officers using their phones.

“The police constables are also dead bored,” he wrote.

The activists complained earlier that police had yet to take their statements even though more than ten hours had passed since their arrests.

“It seems that the police intentionally delayed the procedure in order to prevent us from protesting and allow Xi to arrive at the Hong Kong Airport smoothly,” Ng wrote.

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Leung Kwok-hung is arrested. Photo: Dan Garrett.

Raphael Wong said police had no excuse to postpone handling the activists’ cases. “The officers had nothing to do – they chatted outside our room, procrastinated and watched horse racing. It is definitely not a case of inadequate manpower. In fact, they have too much manpower,” he said.

By Thursday evening, some activists had seen their lawyers. Joshua Wong said in a statement that, after seeing his lawyer, he was “very dissatisfied” with the failure by the police to take his statement 17 hours after his arrest.

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Joshua Wong and other activists at the sit-in protest. Photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

“The situation is highly unusual,” he said. “If police do not release us immediately, we will file a habeas corpus order to end the unreasonable detention.”

Wong speculated that police might detain the activist for 48 hours – the maximum duration without the court’s approval – and then send them to court. That way, he said, police would be able to stop them participating in the annual pro-democracy July 1 rally on Saturday.

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The final activists were removed using a fire services cherry picker. Photo: Dan Garrett.

Police surveillance

Outside the police station, protesters accused the authorities of “political intimidation” and attempting to scare Hongkongers from taking to the streets during Xi’s visit.

Tanya Chan, who is also a barrister, said Thursday that the detention of the activists was unreasonably long.

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Protesters outside North Point Police station. Photo: Tanya Chan.

She also criticised the use of the public nuisance charge against the activists: “The offence of public nuisance is an archaic law and rarely used in Hong Kong.”

She demanded an explanation from police as to why they used the common law offence of public nuisance this time, rather than the less serious offences of obstruction of public space or participation in an unlawful assembly, which are typically used against protesters.

Black Bauhinia protest
Photo: Demosisto.

The common law charge of public nuisance carries a maximum penalty of seven years behind bars. Its use has recently attracted controversy after being applied against Chan and eight other leaders of the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy protests.

A representative of the League of Social Democrats said some members who did not participate in the sit-in protest had been followed by police.

“One of them was searched by police as soon as he walked out of the legislature. Police said they suspected he carried dangerous weapons,” she said. “This is ridiculous.”

Bauhinia square wanchai protest handover arrests
Photo: Dan Garrett.

She said another member was surrounded by 20 police officers as soon as that member exited the residential building he lives in.

“Everything being done is to threaten people. Xi Jinping wants to intimidate people and get rid of dissenting voices so that people will be discouraged from joining protests,” she said.

‘Reputational damage’

Meanwhile, pro-Beijing lawmaker Starry Lee criticised the activists for “hurting the feelings of the nation,” as the bauhinia flower is an important symbol of the transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong, RTHK reported.

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Xi Jinping and Peng Liyuan at the Hong Kong Airport. Photo: GovHK.

She accused the protesters of intending to damage Hong Kong’s reputation and the One Country, Two Systems framework.

See also: Chinese Pres. Xi Jinping praises outgoing Hong Kong leader’s contributions to defending national sovereignty

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Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.