Hong Kong Secretary for Security John Lee said the mass arrests of ex-pro-democracy lawmakers and activists on Wednesday morning were “necessary.”

The comments came after the arrests of 53 democrats for organising or participating in last July’s primaries for the now-postponed 2020 Legislative Council election. Over 600,000 Hongkongers voted in the unofficial democratic primaries which aimed to secure a majority for the democratic camp in the city’s partially-elected legislature.

John Lee
Hong Kong Secretary for Security John Lee meeting the press at the Legislative Council following the mass arrest of pro-democracy activists and lawmakers on Wednesday. Photo: RTHK screenshot,

“The operation today targets the active elements who are suspected of… overthrowing or interfering, serious[ly] destroying the Hong Kong government’s legal execution of duties,” said Lee at the Legislative Council.

“The people involved are suspected of making use of what they call a 35+ plan and a ten-step mutual destruction scheme to someway paralyse the Hong Kong government,” Lee said in reference to Benny Tai’s op-ed in Apple Daily, detailing the timeline for Hong Kong to “jump off the cliff” with Beijing.

Benny Tai
Benny Tai. File photo: inmediahk.net via CC 2.0.

Tai’s timeline detailed steps from winning a majority at the Legislative Council election and vetoing the government budget, to ousting the chief executive and dissolving the legislature.

According to the Basic Law, the chief executive has the power to dissolve the Legislative Council if the council refuses to pass a budget or other important bills put forward by the government. However, the chief executive has to resign if the new Legislative Council still refuses to pass the same bill in dispute.

‘Mutual destruction’

“The plot is to cause such mutual destruction… if successful, this ten step mutual destruction plan will result in serious damage to society as a whole, that is why police action today is necessary,” Lee added.

democratic camp primaries legco 2020
(Top, left to right) Winnie Yu, Tiffany Yuen, Frankie Fung, Kinda Li, Henry Wong, Sam Cheung, Ng Kin-wai, Ventus Lau, Gwyneth Ho, Eddie Chu. (Bottom, left to right) Fergus Leung, Sunny Cheung, Joshua Wong, Lester Shum, Wong Ji-yuet, Owen Chow. Photo: Rachel Wong/HKFP.

The Secretary for Security had also called the democrats’ original plan to win a majority at the Legislative Council “malicious.” When asked if the arrests meant that lawmakers are not allowed to veto the budget, Lee said it was lawmakers’ duty to review the budget.

The democratic camp’s primaries aimed to narrow the final list of pro-democracy candidates to run in the official legislative polls. Organiser Tai was among those arrested on Wednesday.

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.