Hong Kong, January 6
Hong Kong police arrested 53 former lawmakers and democracy proponents on Wednesday for allegedly violating the new national security law by participating in unofficial election primaries for the territory’s legislature last year.
The mass arrests, including of former lawmakers, were the largest move against Hong Kong’s democracy movement since the law was imposed by Beijing last June to quell dissent in the semi-autonomous territory.
“The operation today targets the active elements who are suspected to be involved in the crime of overthrowing, or interfering (and) seriously destroy the Hong Kong governments legal execution of duties,” John Lee, Hong Kong’s security minister, said at a news conference.
He said those arrested were suspected of trying to paralyse the government, via their plans to gain a majority of the seats in the legislature to create a situation in which the chief executive had to resign and the government would stop functioning.
In a video released by former lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting on his Facebook page, police turned up at his house and told him he was “suspected of violating the national security law, subverting state power”.
Police told those recording the video to stop or risk arrest.
The legislative election that would have followed the unofficial primaries was postponed by a year by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who cited the public health risks during the coronavirus pandemic.
Mass resignations and disqualifications of pro-democracy lawmakers have left the legislature largely a pro-Beijing body.
Lee said the police would not target those who had voted in the unofficial primaries, which were held in July last year and attracted more than 600,000 voters even though pro-Beijing lawmakers and politicians had warned the event could breach the security law.
All of the pro-democracy candidates in the unofficial primaries were arrested, according to tallies of the arrests being reported by the South China Morning Post, online platform Now News and political groups.
At least seven members of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party — the city’s largest opposition party — were arrested, including former party chairman Wu Chi-wai. Former lawmakers Lam, Helena Wong and James To were also arrested, according to a post on the party’s Facebook page.
Benny Tai, a key figure in Hong Kong’s 2014 Occupy Central protests and a former law professor, was also arrested, reports said. Tai was one of the main organisers of the primaries.
The home of Joshua Wong, a prominent pro-democracy activist who is serving a 13 1/2-month prison sentence for organising and participating in an unauthorised protest last year, was also raided, according to a tweet posted from Wong’s account.
American human rights lawyer John Clancey was also arrested on Wednesday. Clancey was the treasurer of political group – Power for Democracy, which was involved in the unofficial primaries.
“We need to work for democracy and human rights in Hong Kong,” Clancey said as he was being led away by police, in a video posted by local online news outlet Citizen News.
Police also went to the headquarters of Stand News, a prominent pro-democracy online news site in Hong Kong, with a court order to hand over documents to assist in an investigation related to the national security law, according to a livestreamed video by Stand News. No arrests were made.
Lee also pointed to a “10 steps to mutual destruction” plan among those arrested, which included taking control of the legislature, mobilising protests to paralyse society and calling for international sanctions.
That plan was previously outlined by former law professor Tai. He predicted that between 2020 and 2022, there would be 10 steps to mutual destruction, including the pro-democracy bloc winning a majority in the legislature, intensifying protests, the forced resignation of Lam due to the budget bill being rejected twice, and international sanctions on the Chinese Communist Party.
The concept of mutual destruction — in which both Hong Kong and China would suffer damages — is popular among some protesters and pro-democracy activists.
“The plot is to create such mutual destruction that if successful … will result in serious damage to society as a whole,” said Lee. “That is why police action today is necessary.”
Senior Superintendent Steve Li from the national security unit said that 53 people were arrested in an operation that involved 1,000 officers. The 45 men and eight women were aged between 23 and 79, according to a police statement.
Six were arrested for subverting state power by organising the unofficial primaries, while the rest were arrested for allegedly participating in the event, Li said.
He said more arrests could be made and investigations were ongoing.
Alan Leong, chairman of the pro-democracy Civic Party in Hong Kong, said at a news conference held by the pro-democratic camp on Wednesday that plans to exercise voting rights to veto the budget and eventually oblige the chief executive to step down were rights enshrined in the Basic Law.
The arrests were an “affront to the constitutionally protected rights to vote” in Hong Kong, said Leong.
“We don’t see how by promising to exercise such rights could end them up as being subversive,” he added. AP