National security police in Hong Kong on Wednesday arrested more than 50 opposition politicians and activists in a city-wide crackdown on dissent under a draconian law imposed by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Around 1,000 national security police officers were dispatched to arrest 53 people who took part in or helped to organize a primary election in July aimed at selecting pro-democracy candidates for Legislative Council (LegCo) elections that were then postponed by the authorities, police said.
Former Hong Kong University law professor Benny Tai and founder of the 2014 Occupy Central pro-democracy movement and former Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai were among those arrested.
Several former opposition lawmakers were also among Wednesday’s arrestees, including Eddie Chu, Kwok Ka-ki, Helena Wong, Lam Cheuk-ting, Au Nok-hin and Alvin Yeung, along with Yuen Long District Councillor and primary candidate Ng Kin-wai and District Councillor Tiffany Yuen.
“I am arresting you on suspicion of subversion of state power,” the police told Ng, reading from a prepared statement, according to a post on his Facebook page.
“There is reason to believe that you participated in the implementation of a primary election campaign called the ’35+ Referendum’ in 2020 with the aim of electing 35 or more primary election winners to the Legislative Council with the aim of vetoing any budget or motion of the government, thereby forcing the Chief Executive to resign,” the police said.
The plan was outlined by an article by Benny Tai in the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper and was intended to “seriously interfere with, obstruct, and undermine the lawful operations of the [Hong Kong] political authorities,” the police said.
Civil Human Rights Front convenor Jimmy Sham, who helped to organize mass marches of a million and more against the erosion of Hong Kong’s promised freedoms, former pro-democracy camp convenor Claudia Mo and veteran rights activist Leung Kwok-hung were also on the list of arrestees.
Exiled activists Nathan Law and Sunny Hui, and exiled former pro-democracy lawmaker Ted Hui were also named on the list of those wanted for arrest.
Former commercial airline pilot Jeremy Tam, who has also previously served as an opposition member of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo).
Police also searched the office of the Hong Kong Institute of Public Opinion in Wong Chuk Hang, prompting the office to physically destroy the personal details of some 600,000 people who voted in the primaries, PORI chief executive Chung Kim-wah told reporters.
Senior superintendent Steve Li from the national security department of the Hong Kong police force said 45 men and eight women aged between 23 and 64 had been arrested on suspicion of “subversion” under the law.
Six were accused of having organized the primaries, which saw some 600,000 people turn out to vote. The rest had stood as “so-called candidates,” Li told reporters.
He said the primaries were considered “subversive” because their stated aim was to secure at least 35 seats in LegCo for opposition candidates, so the pro-democracy camp could veto the government’s budgets.
Such an action is regarded as “subversion of state power” under Article 22 of the national security law.
“We are finding some people have been seriously interfering, and disrupting and undermining the operating of the Hong Kong government by means of having a plan, the so-called 35-plus,” Li told a new conference on Wednesday.
“Starting in March last year, they have some ideas of how to use advantage of the seats in the Legco, to eventually object to the budgets and then after that, the chief executive will resign, leading to stopping the operations of the Hong Kong government,” he said.
National security police have also ordered four media organizations to release information relevant to the investigation, Li said.
Alan Au of the Democratic Party told RFA that the primary election candidates were only exercising their rights under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
“These were normal activities,” Au said. “Even filibustering or voting down the budget in LegCo are permitted under the Basic Law.”
“This is clearly a liquidation operation [targeting opposition politicians],” he said.
The arrests come after the primaries were criticized in state-run Chinese media as an attempt to foment a “color revolution.”
Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam moved soon after the primaries to postpone LegCo elections scheduled for early September, citing concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.
The entire pro-democracy camp then resigned from LegCo en masse in November 2020, in protest at the ouster of four opposition lawmakers following a decree from the National People’s Congress (NPC) standing committee in Beijing.
Reported by Lu Xi, Man Hoi Yan and Gigi Lee for RFA’s Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.