The Hong Kong police on Saturday, April 18, arrested more than a dozen high-profile pro-democracy activists for organising protests that rocked the city-state since last year. The police action has raised fears that demonstrators may take to the streets again, shattering the peace brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.
The 15 people arrested allegedly organised and took part in unlawful assemblies and police do not rule out that more will be arrested, Supt Lam Wing-Ho said.
Among those arrested are Martin Lee, touted as the godfather of democracy in Hong Kong, former lawmakers Albert Ho, “long hair” Leung Kwok Hung and Au Nok Hin, as well as Civil Human Rights Front’s Lee Cheuk Yan and its vice-convener Figo Chan.
Media tycoon Jimmy Lai, who owns Apple Daily, was arrested in the afternoon for organising and participating in unlawful marches on Aug 18 and Oct 1, from Causeway Bay to Chater Road in Central.
Lai, along with two others arrested on Saturday, was previously charged with unlawful assembly in February.
Earlier in the day at the Legislative Council, the opposition camp accused the authorities of trying to silence dissent, acting on orders of Beijing.
Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi Wai, who vowed the pan-democrats would resist and fight back, said the arrests are an indication of how worried Beijing is that the pan-democrats will be politically stronger after September’s Legislative Council elections.
He said: “The timing is too much of a coincidence. In the past week, the liaison office, the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, officials and political veterans have criticised us and warned us about national security issues.”
China’s liaison office asserted in a strongly-worded statement that it and the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) – China’s top bodies overseeing the city’s affairs – are “authorised by the central authorities to handle Hong Kong affairs.”
Earlier this week, the liason office’s chief, Luo Huining, called for controversial national security laws to be urgently passed as accusations of overreach by Beijing into the city’s legislative council and judiciary escalate.
Before MrLuo’s comments, the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office issued a statement on Monday accusing opposition lawmakers of disrupting the normal workings of the council, and of abusing their power by delaying the election process for a House Committee chair. The House Committee has not had a chair for six months.
The pro-establishment camp on Saturday defended the arrests.
Lawmaker and former secretary for security Regina Ip called it an “overreaction” from the pan-democrats, adding that everyone is equal before the law. “Whether you are a celebrity, media boss, lawmaker or former lawmaker, there is no privilege or immunity.”
Last year, the authorities banned all three marches organised by the Civil Human Rights Front on Aug 18, Oct 1 and Oct 20. But the lawful gathering on Aug 18 turned into a march, after pro-democracy veterans led crowds onto the streets of Hong Kong Island. The front claimed more than 1.7 million people took part that day, while police put the estimate at 128,000.
Hong Kong was hit by unrest last year that spanned some seven months, but this cooled with the current pandemic.
The unrest, led initially by an opposition to the now-suspended extradition Bill, morphed into a pro-democracy movement with massive demonstrations over many weekends, many of which resulted in bloody clashes between the police and hard-line protesters. (Source: The Straits Times)