Police arrested 15 high-profile pro-democracy figures on Saturday in connection with allegedly “organising and participating in unlawful assemblies,” according to the security bureau.

Former chairs of the Democratic Party Martin Lee and Albert Ho and the Labour Party’s Lee Cheuk-yan were among those arrested, as was lawmaker Leung Yiu-chung, the Democratic Party’s Yeung Sum, democrats Au Nok-hin and Richard Tsoi, Kwai Tsing District Council chair Sin Chung-kai, and the Labour Party’s Cyd Ho.

democrats arrested hong kong
Leung Yiu-chung, Avery Ng, Lee Cheuk-yan, Albert Ho, Martin Lee, Figo Chan, Jimmy Lai, Sin Chung-kai, Cyd Ho, Au Nok-hin, Margaret Ng, Yeung Sum, Raphael Wong, Leung Kwok-hung, Richard Tsoi.

Pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai was arrested at around 1pm as he returned to his house whilst the Civic Party’s Margaret Ng reported to Central District police station at around 3pm for “arrest by appointment.”

League of Social Democrats chair Raphael Wong, vice-chair Leung Kwok-hung, secretary-general Avery Ng and the Civil Human Rights Front’s vice-convener Figo Chan were also arrested by police.

According to the League of Social Democrats, the arrests related to demonstrations on August 18 and October 1, 2019.

October 1 china extradition march
Demonstrations on October 1. Photo: Studio Incendo.

During the protest last August, police warned protesters to leave after they had occupied main roads following a large-scale assembly at Causeway Bay’s Victoria Park. During China’s National Day on October 1, the police had declared that demonstrations in various districts were riots. The unrest came during months of “leaderless” demonstrations against a now-axed extradition bill.

See also: 8 reactions to Hong Kong’s crackdown on democrats

Cheung Sha Wan demo

Democrats gathered outside Cheung Sha Wan police station at around 2pm on Saturday to protest against the arrests. Police on the scene warned the crowd that they may be in violation of the Prevention and Control of Disease ordinance, which bans public gatherings of more than four people. The group chanted protest slogans such as “Five demands, not one less” and “Hongkongers resist!”

cheung sha wan police station arrests protest april 18
“Shame on arbitrary arrests. Five demands, never give in.” Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions holds banner to protest against the arrests. Photo: inmediahk.net.

League of Social Democrats vice-chair and Civil Human Rights Front convenor Jimmy Sham said the arrests showed that the government was oppressing protesters indiscriminately: “[The police] have arrested peaceful, rational and non-violent activists including the Democratic Party’s Martin Lee and Yeung Sum… They are oppressing both peaceful [and] valiant Hongkongers indiscriminately. Hongkongers shall continue to resist, peaceful and valiant undivided.”

Pro-government group Defend Hong Kong also gathered outside Cheung Sha Wan police station to celebrate the arrests as they quarrelled with pro-democracy groups. They showed signs which praised the police force and brought champagne.

Police held a press conference at 3:30pm outside Central District police station where Hong Kong Island Regional Headquarters Superintendent (Crime) Lam Wing-ho confirmed the arrests of 12 males and two females aged 24 to 81. They are to be prosecuted on suspicion of organising and participating in unauthoritised assemblies on August 18, October 1 and October 20, in violation of the Public Order ordinance, he said.

Among the 14, five were also charged with announcing unauthorised marches on September 30 and October 19, 2019.

cheung sha wan police station arrests protest april 18
League of Social Democrats and Labour Party protest against the arrests outside Cheung Sha Wan police station. Photo: inmediahk.net.

Lam refused to comment on the details as the cases were active. He added that a court hearing will take place on May 18.

‘Reign of terror’

Dozens of pro-democracy lawmakers met the press following a special meeting of the Legislative Council to elect new chair for the House Committee on Saturday. Democrat Claudia Mo said the government is doing whatever they can to silence the local opposition.

Claudia Mo
Claudia Mo. File Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

“And now the Hong Kong government, led by Carrie Lam, has tried very hard to introduce a reign of terror in Hong Kong.”

She added that the government is terrified of the chance that the opposition might become the legislative majority in the upcoming election in September.

The 81-year-old founding member and chair of the Democratic Party Martin Lee met the media outside the police station at around 4:45pm after being released on bail. The man often dubbed the “father of Hong Kong democracy” said he was prosecuted on suspicion of organising and participating in an unauthorised march in Victoria Park last August 18.

martin lee april 18
Martin Lee met the press outside police station. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

It was the first time he had been prosecuted: “I feel relieved… After months of witnessing youths being arrested and prosecuted while I stayed out of it, I actually felt guilty. I have been eventually prosecuted and have no regrets. I feel proud to walk the road of democracy with these outstanding youths in Hong Kong.”

Under the Public Order Ordinance, a conviction of unlawful assembly carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, or a HK$5,000 fine and three years in prison upon summary conviction.

Rachel Wong previously worked as a documentary producer and academic researcher. She has a BA in Comparative Literature and European Studies from the University of Hong Kong. She has contributed to A City Made by People and The Funambulist, and has an interest in cultural journalism and gender issues.