The Hong Kong government defended the arrests of 15 high-profile democrats on Sunday, after Saturday’s crackdown was slammed locally and internationally as an “unprecedented assault” on the city’s rule of law, freedom and rights.

A government spokesperson said in a statement that the arrests and prosecutions were made in accordance with the law and connected to alleged cases of “organising and participating in unlawful assemblies.”

See also: Explainer: Beijing’s 5-day crackdown on Hong Kong’s opposition during covid-19

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.

The police will handle each case “in a fair, just and impartial manner,” while prosecutors at the Department of Justice would base their decisions on evidence, laws and the Prosecution Code, without political consideration, the spokesperson said.

“Cases will not be handled any differently owing to the political beliefs or background of the persons involved,” the statement read.

Among the arrested pro-democracy figures were former chairs of the Democratic Party Martin Lee and Albert Ho and the Labour Party’s Lee Cheuk-yan. Media tycoon Jimmy Lai, Civil Human Rights Front’s vice-convener Figo Chan, former legal sector lawmaker Margaret Ng, League of Social Democrats chair Raphael Wong and vice-chair Leung Kwok-hung were also apprehended.

The police round-up of the city’s top democrats made international headlines over the weekend. Local and international politicians and rights groups – including Hong Kong’s last colonial governor Chris Patten – criticised the move as undermining the rule of law, freedom of expression and right to assembly.

In response to the criticism, the Hong Kong government said that, as legal proceedings were ongoing, it would be inappropriate for anyone to comment on the cases. The spokesperson also denied accusations that the rule of law of Hong Kong has been jeopardised.

“No one should embark upon baseless speculations. These types of accusations may be perceived as purporting to influence the proper discharge of public duties,” the spokesperson said.

“Any unfair and unfounded allegation made with a view to undermining and discrediting our independent criminal justice system is vehemently refuted,” the statement read.

Pro-democracy figures Figo Chan (left) and Lee Cheuk-yan (centre). Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

‘Should feel ashamed’

On Saturday night, Hong Kong police chief Chris Tang dismissed claims that the arrests were attempts to suppress the freedom of assembly of democrats. He said the police would not be swayed by the background and status of the arrested persons during law enforcement operations.

“[Police] do not care if the person can control the media to keep vilifying the force, or inciting hate and isolating us. We won’t be afraid to enforce the law,” Tang said.

One of the arrested democrats, Martin Lee, said he had “no regrets” for his actions and felt “proud to walk the road of democracy with these outstanding youths in Hong Kong” after he was released on bail.

Without directly referring to Lee, Tang said he was shocked to hear a senior figure in the legal sector would “encourage young people to break the law.”

“I don’t think there is a need to feel proud, [he] should feel ashamed,” Tang said, while adding that if people do not want to be arrested, they should not violate the law.

On Sunday, the city’s largest pro-democracy coalition announced plans for a two-million-man protest on July 1.

Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.