Hong Kong police have arrested 53 pro-democracy Hongkongers under the National Security Law (NSL) that activated last year. It is the largest mass arrest in Hong Kong under the NSL and included pro-democracy activists, legislators, and legal scholars. Some of the arrested individuals had conducted primaries last year to select suitable candidates who could win in the legislative council election that was scheduled to be held in Sept. 2020.
The primary election, which was conducted on July 11 and 12, was organized by Power for Democracy. However, the legislative elections were postponed in September. Chief Executive Carrie Lam claimed that the decision was due to a rise in coronavirus infections.
Among the arrested people is Jimmy Sham, the vice-chair of the League of the Social Democrats. Former lawmakers from the Democratic Party and the Civic Party were also arrested. Police visited Robert Chung, executive director of the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute (PORI). The organization had provided technology that enabled the primary poll to be conducted. However, Chung was not arrested. It was later revealed that polling data collected by the company was destroyed and Chung was asked to assist the police in an investigation.
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“It’s a clear signal that the Chinese Communist regime can no longer tolerate any opposition in Hong Kong. It’s an… effort to eradicate the democratic camp. It goes to show that democracy is a dangerous value that can result in incarceration for anyone who attempts to promote it in Hong Kong,” former opposition lawmaker Fernando Cheung said in a statement.
John Lee, Hong Kong Secretary for Security, said the arrests were a “necessary” act. He claimed that the arrested people are suspected of overthrowing the Hong Kong government. Lee points out that arrested individuals wanted to win a majority in the legislative council election. This would give them the power to veto the government budget and force the Chief Executive to resign. Lee called the plot “malicious.” However, since the law allows lawmakers to veto the budget, it’s not clear what is illegal or unconstitutional about the actions of the arrested legislators.
During the unofficial primaries, the candidates had indicated that they wanted to win 35 seats in the legislative council, which would give the pro-democracy side a majority. Wanting to suppress the pro-democracy groups, the Hong Kong government claimed to have received “complaints” alleging that the actions undertaken at the primaries might have manipulated the election.
Since the candidates had pledged to block government bills if they gained a majority in the legislative council, their actions were deemed as violating the National Security Law. The communist Chinese regime had also accused primary organizers of betraying China by colluding with foreign governments. The arrested people were denied bail, indicating that Beijing wanted to detain them indefinitely.
Human rights organization Hong Kong Watch criticized the Hong Kong government for the mass arrest.
“We strongly condemn the arrests of pro-democracy activists who stood in last year’s Democratic primaries. Beijing is once again undermining Hong Kong’s democracy and breaching its obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration… The international community must respond with Magnitsky sanctions and other punitive measures demonstrating that an attack on democracy has consequences,” the organization said in a series of tweets.
U.S. Senator Ben Sasse stated that the raids and arrests only show that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is filled with “cowardly dictators.” The Hong Kong Democracy Council also condemned the arrests, stating that these are actions that only “authoritarian regimes and dictators do.”