China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the China Liaison Office in Hong Kong voiced “firm support” for the mass arrest on Wednesday of over 50 democrats who participated in a primary election last July.

The arrests were a necessary measure to stop “external forces and individuals colluding to undermine China,” said Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying at a press briefing.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Hua Chunying, China Liaison Office director Luo Huining, and New People’s Party leader Regina Ip. Photo: government websites and HKFP.

The only damage caused was to “the kind of freedom of some external forces and individuals in Hong Kong to collude with each other to attempt to undermine China’s stability and security,” Hua said.

In all, 53 people were arrested for alleged subversion under the security law for organising and participating in the legislative primaries run by the democrats last July. Among the detained were prominent pro-democracy activists, former opposition lawmakers and lawyers who helped carry out the city-wide poll ahead of the since-postponed legislative race. Over 600,000 Hongkongers voted in the unofficial primaries which aimed to secure a majority for the democratic camp in the city’s partially-elected legislature.

‘Lawbreakers’ separate to ‘misled’ voters

In a statement published on its website Wednesday, the China Liaison Office spokesperson in Hong Kong said it expressed “firm support” for the police enforcement action in accordance with the city’s national security law, which was enacted last June.

“We firmly support the Hong Kong police’s strict enforcement of the law, and the separation of suspected lawbreakers – who strategically organise or implement paralysis of the government – from the general people who were misled to vote in the so-called primary elections,” the spokesperson said in the statement.

Luo Huining. Photo: RTHK Screenshot.

“The Hong Kong police arrested today 53 individuals including Benny Tai, who planned, coordinated and executed the so-called ’35+’ and ‘ten steps to mutual destruction,’ individuals who acted towards the aim of ‘paralyzing the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government,” they added. “[The arrested people] have allegedly violated the provisions of the Hong Kong national security law regarding the crime of subverting state power.”

The “ten steps to mutual destruction” was put forward by former law professor Tai who was an organiser of the 2014 Umbrella Movement. The pro-democracy figure wrote in an article for Apple Daily detailing a timeline of events for Hong Kong to “jump off the cliff” with the Chinese Communist Party.

Beijing’s office in the city further stated that “Hong Kong has come to a turning point from chaos to order” after the Beijing-imposed security law was enacted. The security, stability and peace for people in Hong Kong could only be guaranteed with the firm enforcement of the law, it said.

Prosecution ‘has to prove criminal intent’

Additionally, the pro-establishment New People’s Party issued a statement saying that primary elections were “not provided in Hong Kong’s laws,” and their stated purpose could be acts of subversion.

Regina Ip of New People’s Party. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“New People’s Party notes that no charges have been preferred at this stage. In accordance with common law principles, the prosecution would have to prove criminal intent on the part of those arrested and corroborative evidence would need to be adduced,” they said.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s opposition camp have called on citizens to remain united. According to local media citing sources, police will detain 52 of the arrested individuals overnight for investigation. Ex-legislator Au Nok-hin was released on bail as he was reportedly in a hotel for a two-week coronavirus quarantine before his arrest.

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Selina Cheng

Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.