Hong Kong’s opposition camp have called on citizens to remain united, as more than 50 democrats arrested under the national security law are set to remain in custody overnight for investigation.

At a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, representatives from various democratic political parties and groups jointly condemned the “arbitrary arrests” of 53 activists and democrats over their organisation and participation in last July’s primary election for the since-postponed 2020 Legislative Council election.

Representatives of the pro-democracy camp in Hong Kong at a press conference after fellow democrats were arrested under the national security law. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

Police said the group stood accused of committing subversion under the Beijing-imposed legislation, after they proposed using strategic voting to secure a legislative majority to veto government budgets. The force said the ultimate goal of the plan was to force the chief executive to step down and shut down the government.

Civic Party chairman Alan Leong said the arrests showed the authorities ignored citizens’ right to vote. He said he could not see why – in their promise to exercise the power to veto budgets as enshrined in the Basic Law – the democrats would end up being subversive.

The barrister also rebuffed comments from Secretary for Security John Lee who called the pan-democrats’ plan to secure more than 35 seats in the legislature “malicious.”

“To us, it is ridiculous to the extreme… who actually pushed Hong Kong over a steep cliff is the political power[s] who behave treacherously in not observing what has been promised to us under the Basic Law,” Leong said.

Chairman of the Democratic Party Lo Kin-hei criticised the government as “going against” public opinion by rounding up politicians who gained widespread support. He said it was “reasonable and normal” for political parties and camps to hold a primary poll before an official election.

“[The government] is taking revenge against those supported by citizens,” he said.

The democratic camp’s primaries held in July last year saw 610,000 people cast their ballots, according to the organisers. Young localists came out on top, while some candidates from traditional political parties trailed behind. The authorities have said they will not pursue voters, whilst organisers say their data has been destroyed.

No bail

According to local media citing sources, police will detain 52 of the arrested individuals overnight for investigation. But former legislator Au Nok-hin was released on bail as he was reportedly in a hotel for a two-week coronavirus quarantine before his arrest.

Candidates who ran in the democratic camp’s primaries. (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 democrats said mass arrests – the biggest round-up since the national security was enacted on June 30 last year – was an attempt by the authorities to make the people of Hong Kong “scared and helpless.” They urged Hongkongers not to lose hope and confidence during the “dark times.”

“We appeal to the people of Hong Kong not to despair. We should insist on speaking the truth and living in truth. There will be light in the end of the dark tunnel,” Leong said.

Sha Tin District Councillor Raymond Li also called on various factions of the pro-democracy camp to put past disputes behind them in face of the “sickle” of the Chinese Communist Party.

“Our differences in the past have become so insignificant now. We are facing the most difficult challenge in Hong Kong’s history. Only if Hongkongers are united, there is a chance of triumphing over our enemy,” he said.

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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.