Police say 53 Hong Kong democrats and activists were arrested on Wednesday morning for alleged violations of the national security law.
According to media reports and social media posts, the opposition figures were arrested over their organisation and participation in the primaries for the postponed 2020 Legislative Council Election last year.
NowTV cited sources as saying that the arrests for alleged subversion came after candidates made an election pledge to veto government budgets.
Former lawmakers Alvin Yeung, Andrew Wan, Au Nok-hin, Claudia Mo, Eddie Chu, Gary Fan, Helena Wong, James To, Jeremy Tam, Kwok Ka-ki, Lam Cheuk Ting, Raymond Chan, Roy Kwong and Wu Chi-wai were among those arrested, according to social media posts.
Organiser of the primaries Benny Tai was also detained alongside district councillors Andrew Chiu, Andy Chui, Ben Chung, Clarisse Yeung, Fergus Leung, Kalvin Ho, Kinda Li, Lawrence Lau, Lee Yue-shun, Lester Shum, Michael Pang, Ng Kin-wai, Ricky Or, Roy Tam, Sam Cheung, Shun Lee, Sze Tak-loy, Tat Cheng, Tiffany Yuen and Henry Wong Pak-yu.
Robert Chung, executive director of the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute (PORI) was visited by police but not arrested. PORI provided the technology to carry out the poll. Its deputy executive director Chung Kim-wah told HKFP that polling data had been destroyed and the police asked him to come in to assist with an investigation.
Activists Owen Chow, Prince Wong, Nathan Lau, Ng Ching-Hang (who goes by the pseudonym name Lee Bak Lou) , and Ventus Lau were also arrested, and – according to his Twitter account – the home of jailed activist Joshua Wong was also raided by police.
Meanwhile, the pro-democracy League of Social Democrats said their vice-chairpersons Leung Kwok hung and Jimmy Sham were both at police stations.
Other figures arrested included convenor of Peninsula Commons Frankie Fung, social worker Jeffrey Andrews, former reporter Gwyneth Ho, Hong Kong Allied Health Professionals and Nurses Association officer Lau Hoi-man, ex-president of the Association of Parents of the Severely Mentally Handicapped Lee Chi Yung, chair of the Hospital Authority Employees Alliance Winnie Yu, chair of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions Carol Ng, social worker and activist Hendrick Lui, Head of School of Nursing of the Union Hospital Ricky Yuen, former lawmaker Joseph Lee, and founder of the pro-democracy Abouthai store – which provided polling stations – Mike Lam.
John Clancey, lawyer and treasurer of Power for Democracy was arrested as police searched his law firm, Ho Tse Wai & Partners. Power for Democracy was one of the organisers of the primaries. Its convenor Andrew Chiu was also arrested.
Separately, police also arrived at the office of digital news outlet Stand News. According to a live stream, police handed over papers requesting a document relating to a national security law case.
The digital outlet’s editor-in-chief Chung Pui-kuen said he will consult a lawyer on signing the document and the publication will have detailed reporting later.
In all, police confirmed at an afternoon press conference that they had arrested 45 men and eight women aged 23 to 64.
‘No legal basis’
The democratic camp’s primaries last July aimed to narrow the final list of pro-democracy candidates to run in the official legislative polls, which was later delayed by Chief Executive Carrie Lam citing Covid-19 fears. They hoped to secure a majority in the legislature by winning more than 35 seats, however the authorities claimed the polls had “no legal basis.”
Organisers of the primary election said over 610,000 Hongkongers cast their ballots throughout the two-day vote.
At the time, a spokesperson for Beijing’s office in Hong Kong said the polls were illegal: “The goal of organiser Benny Tai and the opposition camp is to seize the ruling power of Hong Kong and… carry out a Hong Kong version of ‘colour revolution’,” said a spokesman for the Liaison Office.”
During District Councillor Ng Kin-wai’s arrest on Wednesday, the police cited Tai’s “ten step to mutual destruction” – a column he wrote for Apple Daily last April detailing the timeline for Hong Kong to “jump off the cliff” with Beijing.
The plan started with the pro-democracy camp winning a majority at the Legislative Council: “I can’t write what will happen next, because that has exceeded Hong Kong’s boundaries,” said Tai in the column.
Maya Wang of Human Rights Watch condemned the arrests in a statement: “The Chinese government has decided to mark 2021 with sweeping arrests of over 50 prominent pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, removing the remaining veneer of democracy in the city. Beijing once again has failed to learn from its mistakes in Hong Kong: that repression generates resistance, and that millions of Hong Kong people will persist in their struggle for their right to vote and run for office in a democratically elected government.”
In June 2020, Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – bypassing the local legislature – following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, foreign interference and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to public transport and other infrastructure. The move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China.
The round-up comes 14 days ahead of the inauguration of US President Elect Joe Biden.
Correction 14.20: A previous version of this article stated that PORI chief Robert Chung had been arrested. A staffer has confirmed with HKFP that he was not arrested during a police visit on Wednesday.