HONG KONG (Reuters) - Over 50 pro-democratic activists in Hong Kong were arrested on Wednesday on suspicion of breaking the city’s national security law, local media reported, in the biggest crackdown yet against the democratic opposition under the new law.
The arrests in the Asian financial hub included well known democratic figures and former lawmakers James To, Lam Cheuk-ting and Lester Shum, according to the Democratic Party’s Facebook page and public broadcaster RTHK.
Police did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Democratic Party’s Facebook page said police arrested the activists for participating in an independently organised ballot last year to select democratic candidates for a legislature election, which the Hong Kong government and Beijing warned at the time may violate the new law.
The legislative election was due in September but has been postponed, with authorities citing coronavirus risks.
The attempt to win a majority in the 70-seat city legislature, which some candidates said could be used to block government proposals and increase pressure for democratic reforms, was seen as an “act of subversion, in violation of the national security law”, the party said.
The security law was imposed by Beijing on the former British colony in June.
It punishes what China broadly defines as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in jail and has been condemned by the West and human rights groups as a tool to crush dissent in the semi-autonomous, Chinese-ruled city.
Authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing say it is vital to plug gaping holes in national security defences exposed by months of sometimes violent anti-government and anti-China protests that rocked the global financial hub in 2019.
Since the imposition of the security law, leading pro-democracy activists such as media tycoon Jimmy Lai have been arrested, some democratic lawmakers have been disqualified, activists have fled into exile, and protest slogans and songs have been declared illegal.
Joshua Wong, 24, one of Hong Kong’s most prominent democracy activists, was one of more than a dozen young, more confrontational politicians who outshone old guard democrats in the unofficial primary elections last July.
Wong’s Twitter and Facebook accounts said his house was raided by police in the morning.
Wong was jailed last year on separate charges for organising and inciting an unlawful assembly during the 2019 anti government protests.
The success of young contenders in the democratic primaries, which Beijing said were illegal, came amid widespread resentment of a national security law that Beijing imposed last month.
Reporting by Yanni Chow; Writing by Farah Master; Editing by Michael Perry
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.