Over 50 Hong Kong Democrats Arrested for Holding 2020 Legislative Primaries

HONG KONG, CHINA - JULY 21: Riot police secure an area inside a shopping mall during a rally on July 21, 2020 in Hong Kong, China. Protesters gathered to mark one year since the Yuen Long mob attack at the Yuen Long MTR station. (Photo by Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)
Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

Hong Kong police raided 72 locations and made at least 53 arrests in a massive crackdown on pro-democracy advocates Wednesday morning.

Virtually everyone involved in the July 2020 non-binding legislative primary, a massive embarrassment to the Chinese Communist Party thanks to its huge turnout, was arrested under the draconian security law imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing last year.

“The operation today targets the active elements who are suspected to be involved in the crime of overthrowing or interfering seriously to destroy the Hong Kong government’s legal execution of duties,” said Hong Kong Secretary for Security John Lee, portraying the legislative primary as an act of subversion intended to overthrow the government.

The Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) said the non-binding primary was classified as subversion because the candidates “made an election pledge to veto government budgets.” Most of those candidates are now facing charges under the national security law for allegedly trying to sabotage the state:

Former lawmakers Alvin Yeung, Andrew Wan, Au Nok-hin, Claudia Mo, Eddie Chu, Gary Fan, Helena Wong, James To, Jeremy Tam, Kwok Ka-ki, Lam Cheuk Ting, Raymond Chan, Roy Kwong and Wu Chi-wai were among those arrested, according to social media posts.

Organizer of the primaries Benny Tai was also detained alongside district councillors Andrew Chiu, Andy Chui, Ben Chung, Clarisse Yeung, Fergus Leung, Kalvin Ho, Kinda Li, Lawrence Lau, Lee Yue-shun, Lester Shum, Michael Pang, Ng Kin-wai, Ricky Or, Roy Tam, Sam Cheung, Shun Lee, Sze Tak-loy, Tat Cheng, Tiffany Yuen and Henry Wong Pak-yu.

[…] Activists Owen Chow, Prince Wong, Nathan Lau, Ng Ching-Hang (who goes by the pseudonym name Lee Bak Lou) , and Ventus Lau were also arrested, and — according to his Twitter account — the home of jailed activist Joshua Wong was also raided by police.

Meanwhile, the pro-democracy League of Social Democrats said their vice-chairpersons Leung Kwok hung and Jimmy Sham were both at police stations.

The list of detainees provided by HKFP went on and on, naming everyone involved with organizing and promoting the July primaries. 

One of those arrested was an American lawyer named John Clancey, who served as legal counsel and treasurer of Power for Democracy, a group that supported the primaries. The police raided Clancey’s law firm of Ho, Tse, Wai & Partners, which has represented several Hong Kong opposition leaders. The head of Power for Democracy, Andrew Chiu, was also arrested.

The police also went after the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute (PORI), which provided the website and smartphone apps used in the July primary. Executive Director Chung Kim-wah said he was summoned to the police station for assistance in an “unspecified investigation” and assured he would not be placed under arrest. 

Chung noted the police raided PORI shortly after the primary is held, but were unable to obtain any personal data that could be used to arrest or intimidate the voters who participated.

“Several days after the election, we destroyed all the [personal] information; we have physically crushed all the hard disks with information inside. Nobody who participated in the primary should be afraid of any information leak,” Chung told HKFP on Wednesday.

Chung admitted that might be cold comfort to Hong Kongers terrified after Wednesday’s pogrom against political opposition. “If the government wants to scare people away, anything is possible under the current situation. Nobody is safe,” he said.

Chung said he was “angry” about the mass arrests. 

“I don’t think this is going to solve any problem the government and the society is facing, because it will stir up further damage to the reputation and credibility of the government. It is not going to gain back the trust of the people for a long, long time. that’s the problem,” he said.

Hong Kong opposition leaders like former lawmaker Fernando Cheung said the arrests sent a “clear signal that the Chinese Communist regime can no longer tolerate any opposition in Hong Kong.”

Cheung called the raids an “effort to eradicate the democratic camp,” a charge echoed by human rights organizations and free governments around the world. Hong Kong democracy activists pleaded for help from the U.N., the United Kingdom, the European Union, and the incoming Biden administration in the United States.

“Charging dozens of pro-democracy lawmakers and activists with ‘subversion’, just because they held their own informal primary contest, is a blatant attack on their rights to peaceful expression and association. People have a legitimate right to take part in public affairs. Political opposition should not be silenced just because the authorities don’t like it,” said Yamini Mishra of Amnesty International.

“The Chinese government has decided to mark 2021 with sweeping arrests of over 50 prominent pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, removing the remaining veneer of democracy in the city. Beijing once again has failed to learn from its mistakes in Hong Kong: that repression generates resistance, and that millions of Hong Kong people will persist in their struggle for their right to vote and run for office in a democratically elected government,” said Maya Wang of Human Rights Watch.

Chinese state media was, of course, completely supportive of the arrests and doggedly insisted the detainees were guilty of “subverting the political power of Hong Kong authorities.”

China’s Global Times quoted numerous Communist officials who lined up to support the mass arrests:

The Chinese Foreign Ministry, the central government’s liaison office in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) and central government’s office for safeguarding national security in Hong Kong voiced support for the operation. 

The Chinese Foreign Ministry called the operation “necessary and a must,” echoing Hong Kong Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu who said those people detained by the police aimed to paralyze the HKSAR government, so the police had to take action. 

The liaison office, the central government’s office for safeguarding national security in Hong Kong and Hong Kong government all voiced support for the HKPF, praising the Hong Kong authorities for their determination to safeguard national security. The HKSAR government also said any act of subversion can’t be tolerated. 

The Global Times rejected outside criticism of the arrests, insisting the detainees were warned in July their primary contest and political agenda would be punished as acts of “subversion” and bizarrely claiming the arrests “did not specifically target any political group.”

“Legal experts saw the arrest as a legitimate and long-awaited action in line with local law and the National Security Law for Hong Kong, which has nothing to do with any so-called ‘political crackdown,’ as the illegal primaries organized by anti-government groups were seen as part of their ill-intentioned plan to manipulate election results, subvert state power, and collude with external forces to completely usurp the power of the authorities,” the Chinese Communist paper declared.

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