The United States and Britain have condemned the arrests of at least 15 veteran pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong on charges of joining massive anti-government protests last year.
Hong Kong’s police action on Saturday marks the biggest crackdown on the pro-democracy movement since the beginning of anti-government protests across the former British colony in June last year.
“The United States condemns the arrest of pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.
US Attorney-General William Barr also weighed in with a statement saying these events show how “antithetical the values of the Chinese Communist Party are to those we share in Western liberal democracies.
The arrested supporters of the pro-democracy movement included Democratic Party founder and barrister Martin Lee, 81, millionaire publishing tycoon Jimmy Lai, 71, and former lawmaker and barrister Margaret Ng, 72.
Police said those arrested were aged between 24 and 81, and they were detained on charges of organising and participating in “unlawful assemblies” on 18 August and 1 and 20 October last year.
They were all due to appear in court on 18 May and some of those arrested were released on bail late on Saturday. The police said more arrests were possible.
In Britain, a Foreign Office representative said the government expected any arrests and court procedures to be “conducted in a fair and transparent manner”.
The Foreign Office also said the right to peaceful protest was “fundamental to Hong Kong’s way of life” and authorities should avoid “actions that inflame tensions”.
“The authorities should focus on rebuilding trust through a process of meaningful political dialogue,” the Foreign Office said.
The Hong Kong government defended the arrests, which the city’s Security Bureau said were carried out in line with the law.
“In Hong Kong, everyone is equal before the law … No one has any special privileges,” said a bureau spokesman.
The International Bar Association said Hong Kong authorities should not encroach on human rights and the legal system must guard against any abuses of power while the world was preoccupied with the coronavirus pandemic.
The association condemned the arrests of Lee and Ng, who have been active human rights and rule of law campaigners during their careers.
In a special report published on Tuesday, three of Hong Kong’s top judges told Reuters that the independence of the city’s judicial system was under assault from the Communist Party leadership in Beijing. The judiciary, they said, was in a fight for its survival.
Hong Kong returned to Beijing in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula that guaranteed broad freedoms not seen in mainland China, and a high degree of autonomy. (Source: The Guardian)