Police in Hong Kong have arrested 53 former lawmakers and pro-democracy activists for allegedly violating the new National Security Law by participating in unofficial primaries for the territory’s legislature last year.
The mass arrests, including of former lawmakers, were the largest action against Hong Kong’s democracy movement since the law was imposed by Beijing last June to suppress dissent in the semi-autonomous territory.
“Today’s operation targets the active elements suspected of being involved in the crime of subversion or seriously disrupting the Hong Kong government’s lawful exercise of office,” John Lee, Hong Kong’s security secretary, told a news conference.
He said those arrested were suspected of trying to cripple the government through their plans to win a majority of seats in the legislature to create a situation where Chief Executive Carrie Lam would have to resign and the government would no longer function.
In a video posted by former lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting on his Facebook page, police showed up at his home and told him he was “suspected of violating the National Security Law and subverting state power.” Police told those recording the video to stop or risk arrest.
The election, which would have followed the unofficial primary, was postponed for a year by Ms. Lam, citing public health risks during the coronavirus pandemic.
Resignations and disqualifications of pro-democracy lawmakers have made the legislature largely a pro-Beijing body.
Mr. Lee said police would not take action against those who participated in unofficial primaries held last July that attracted more than 600,000 voters, despite warnings from pro-Beijing lawmakers and politicians that the event could violate the security law.
All pro-democracy candidates in the unofficial primaries were arrested, according to the South China Morning Post, the online platform Now News and political groups.
At least seven members of the Hong Kong Democratic Party – the city’s largest opposition party – were arrested, including former party chairman Wu Chi-wai. Former MPs Lam, Helena Wong and James To were also arrested, according to a post on the party’s Facebook page.
Benny Tai, a key figure in the 2014 Occupy Central protests in Hong Kong and a former law professor, was also arrested, the reports said. Tai was one of the main organizers of the primary election.
The home of Joshua Wong, a prominent pro-democracy activist serving a three-and-a-half-month prison sentence for organizing and participating in an unsanctioned protest last year, was also raided, according to a tweet from his account.
Mr. Lee also pointed to a “10 Steps to Mutual Destruction” plan reportedly formulated among those arrested, which includes taking control of the legislature, mobilizing protests to paralyze society and calling for international sanctions.
“The plan is to create such mutual destruction that, if successful, will lead to serious damage to society as a whole,” the security secretary said, adding, “That’s why today’s police action is necessary.”
Hong Kong has recently detained several pro-democracy activists, including Wong and Agnes Chow for their involvement in anti-government protests, and others have been charged under the National Security Act, including media tycoon and outspoken pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai.
Since the British handed over Hong Kong to China in 1997, the semi-autonomous Chinese city has operated under a “one country, two systems” principle that grants it freedoms not available on the mainland.
In recent years, Beijing has exerted more control over the city, drawing criticism that it broke its promise that Hong Kong would maintain separate civil rights and political systems for 50 years after the handover.