Over 50 pro-democratic activists in Hong Kong were arrested on Wednesday on suspicion of breaking the city’s national security law, local media reported, in the biggest crackdown yet against the democratic opposition under the new law.
Those arrested included former lawmakers and pro-democracy activists, and the group were arrested on suspicion of subversion under the city’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 largest Democratic Party, the city’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.
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 Hong Kongers voted in the primaries, although pro-Beijing lawmakers and politicians criticized the event and warned that it could be in breach of the city’s national security law, which was imposed on the city 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 city 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 over the city, 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.