“Dozens” of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong have been arrested in a “sweeping crackdown” — the first mass arrest under a “national security law” passed in China allowing Chinese security forces to operate within the city-state.
The Guardian reports that “more than 50 pro-democracy politicians and campaigners have been arrested in early morning raids in Hong Kong, in an unprecedented crackdown by authorities on the opposition in the region.”
“The sweeping arrests on Wednesday morning came without warning, and shocked observers. It is the largest single mass arrest of people under the national security law (NSL), and appeared to relate to just a singular event: the holding of democratic votes,” the outlet continues.
The Guardian notes that most of those picked up are activists, legal scholars, and aspiring legislators who held primaries to find candidates to compete in an upcoming Hong Kong legislative council election. Those primaries drew more than 600,000 votes; Hong Kong has a population of just 7 million.
“Campaigners had been aiming for 35 seats – a majority in the legislative council,” the outlet says. “Among those named as arrested were former lawmakers Helena Wong, Lam Cheuk-ting, Chu Hoi-dick, and Leung Kwok-Hung, as well as co-organizers of the polls – legal scholar Benny Tai and pollster Robert Chung, whose office was raided just days prior.”
The primaries are, ultimately, unofficial; Hong Kong’s pro-Chinese chief executive, Carrie Lam, postponed the city-state’s official elections “indefinitely” claiming that residents of Hong Kong faced a significant risk of contracting the novel coronavirus through the act of voting.
It turns out, unofficial or not, daring to oppose China’s exercise of power within Hong Kong through purely democratic means is a threat to Chinese superiority. “At the time of the primaries, the Hong Kong government claimed it had received complaints that the poll might have ‘interfered with and manipulated’ the election and that by pledging to win a majority of seats in order to block government bills candidates and campaigners had potentially violated the NSL.”
Beijing reportedly accused those who organized the primaries of collaborating with foreign governments seeking to challenge China, and that was enough to trigger the “National Security Law” that China passed in reference to Hong Kong last June. That law allows China to enter Hong Kong to arrest those who engage in “secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.”
Carrie Lam suggested, in a statement late last year, that while competing in elections was not necessarily an act of terrorism or a threat to national security, but that the group of activists sought to capture enough seats in the legislative council to stall pro-Chinese legislation. That, she said, was “potentially subversive.”
A police source told Chinese state-run media that activists “were arrested on suspicion of subversion.”
None of those arrested will be allowed out on bail, suggesting that China may be planning to detain them indefinitely.