Hong Kong police have arrested Jimmy Lai, the owner of pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily, as well as the vice-chair of the Labour Party Lee Cheuk-yan.
Police descended on the pro-democracy figures’ homes on Friday morning, according to activist Figo Chan and local media. Both were arrested on suspicion of taking part in an illegal assembly during an anti-extradition law demonstration last August 31.
During the Civil Human Rights Front march, which was banned by police, pro-democracy protesters and officers clashed on Hong Kong Island. Tactical officers later stormed Prince Edward MTR station, deploying pepper spray and making arrests.
According to Now TV, Lai – aged 71 – was also arrested for allegedly blackmailing an Oriental Daily journalist in 2017. Lee, 63, is also a former chair of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, which organises the annual Tiananmen Massacre vigils in Hong Kong.
Yeung Sum, ex-lawmaker and former chief of the Democratic Party, was also detained for allegedly organising an unlawful assembly, according to democrat Lam Cheuk-ting on Facebook.
Under the Public Order Ordinance, it is an offence for three or more people to act together in a disorderly manner with the intent to cause others to fear that a breach of the peace will be committed. The offence is punishable by three years in prison on summary conviction.
Ahead of the march last August, nine pro-democracy figures were arrested, including Demosisto activists Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow, and lawmakers Au Nok-hin, Jeremy Tam and Cheng Chung-tai.
Police held a press conference outside the Kowloon City Police Station at 12:30pm, where Hong Kong Island Regional Headquarters Superintendent (Crime) Wong Tung-kwong confirmed the arrest of three local men. He said one of the men was arrested on suspicion of intimidation in the Eastern District on June 4, 2017.
Wong denied that the arrests were politically-motived, saying they were only made after investigations.
Lai left the police station at around 12:50pm without speaking to the press, according to Apple Daily.
After his release at around 1pm, Lee told reporters that his mobile phone was seized and examined at the police station.
“They did not say anything about searching my phone while I was giving my statement,” he said. “I find it suspicious. It seems like the arrest this morning was to do with collecting evidence [against me], not for prosecution.”
Yeung also spoke with reporters after leaving the Western Police Station on bail at around 1pm: “We participated in the march [on August 31] because we thought the right to protest was one of Hong Kong’s basic rights and core values,” he said.
The cases will be heard at Eastern Law Court on May 5.
Correction 16.00: Owing to an editing error, a previous version of this article incorrectly stated when police made an arrest for intimidation.