About 50 Hong Kong pro-democracy figures were arrested by police on Wednesday under a national security law, following their involvement in an unofficial primary election last year held to increase their chances of controlling the legislature, according to local media reports.
Those arrested included former lawmakers and pro-democracy activists, and the group were arrested on suspicion of subversion under the territory’s national security law, according to reports by local newspaper South China Morning Post and online news platform Now News.
At least seven members of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party — the territory’s largest opposition party — were arrested, including former party chairman Wu Chi-wai. Former lawmakers, including Helena Wong, Lam Cheuk-ting, 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, according to local media reports. Tai was one of the main organizers of the primaries.
The home of Joshua Wong, a prominent pro-democracy activist who is currently serving a 13½-month prison sentence for organizing and participating in an unauthorized protest last year, was also raided this morning, according to a tweet posted from Wong’s account.
<a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/BREAKING?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#BREAKING</a> Police also raided Joshua’s home for allegedly violating the national security law this morning as he took part in the primary election last year. 50+ democratic activists were arrested.
The mass arrests on Wednesday are the largest to date since the national security law was implemented in Hong Kong in June last year. In recent months, Hong Kong has jailed several pro-democracy activists including Wong and Agnes Chow for their involvement in antigovernment protests, and others have been charged under the national security law, including media tycoon and outspoken pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai.
Pro-democracy activists and lawmakers had last July held an unofficial primary election to figure out which candidates they should field in a now-postponed legislative election that would boost their chances of gaining a majority of seats in legislature. Gaining a majority would allow the pro-democracy camp to vote against what they deemed to be pro-Beijing government policies.
More than 600,000 people in Hong Kong voted in the primaries, although pro-Beijing lawmakers and politicians criticized the event and warned that it could be in breach of the territory’s national security law, which was imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing in June to quash dissent following months of anti-government protests.
Beijing also blasted the primaries as “illegal,” calling it a “serious provocation” of Hong Kong’s current electoral system.
Following the handover of Hong Kong to China by the British in 1997, the semi-autonomous Chinese territory has operated on a “one country, two systems” framework that affords it freedoms not found on the mainland. In recent years, Beijing has asserted more control, drawing criticism that Hong Kong’s freedoms were under attack.
The legislative elections, originally slated to be held in September, were later postponed for a year after Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam claimed that holding elections would be a risk to public health given the coronavirus pandemic. The pro-democracy camp denounced the postponement as unconstitutional.
In November, all of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy lawmakers resigned en masse after Beijing passed a resolution that led to the disqualification of four of its camp.