Canada condemns arrest of pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong

Canada is condemning the arrest of more than 50 pro-democracy activists and former lawmakers in Hong Kong who are accused of violating a new national security law by participating in unofficial election primaries for the region’s legislature last year.

“The mass arrest of activists and politicians in Hong Kong is a grave repression of political pluralism,” Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said in a social media post.

Champagne wrote that the arrests show “a total disregard for Hong Kong’s basic law” and “further erosion” of the principle of “one country, two systems” that was supposed to guide Hong Kong’s relationship with Beijing.

“We call for their immediate release,” he wrote. 

The mass arrests amount to the largest move against Hong Kong’s democracy movement since the new security law was imposed by Beijing last June to quell dissent in the semi-autonomous region.

The security law criminalizes acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers to intervene in the city’s affairs. Serious offenders could face a maximum punishment of life imprisonment.

The arrests were discussed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a conversation earlier today. A readout of the call issued by Trudeau’s office did not specifically mention the arrests.

“The leaders also spoke about the growing trading relationship between our countries, as well as foreign policy issues, including the recent arrests in Hong Kong which they agreed were deeply concerning,” said a readout of the call published by Johnson’s office.

The election that would have followed the unofficial primaries was postponed for a year by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who cited the public health risks posed by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Resignations and disqualifications of pro-democracy lawmakers have since left the legislature largely a pro-Beijing body.

Canada will act with allies: Champagne

The Associated Press is reporting that 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, the online platform Now News and political groups.

At least seven members of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party — the city’s largest opposition party — were also arrested, including former party chairman Wu Chi-wai. Former lawmakers Lam Cheuk-ting, Helena Wong and James To were also arrested, according to a post on the party’s Facebook page, the Associated Press reported. 

Police also went to the offices of Stand News and Apple Daily, two prominent pro-democracy news outlets, with a court order to secure documents to assist in an investigation related to the national security law, according to the two media outlets. Another online news outlet, In-Media, received a similar court order. No arrests were made.

Speaking later in the day, Champagne said that Canada will “always be there” for the 300,000 Canadians currently living in Hong Kong. He said that Canada would respond to the arrests in concert with its allies.

“We will come with one voice to express in no uncertain terms what we have seen and what we are seeing by China, undermining the pillars that have made Hong Kong what it is — a vibrant centre for trade and commerce,” he said. “And seeing what is happening right now obviously is of much concern”

WATCH | Canada’s foreign minister comments on arrests in Hong Kong

Francois-Philippe Champagne spoke with reporters today during a video conference hosted from Ottawa, addressing recent arrests in Hong Kong. 2:29

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