As many as 50 Hong Kong opposition figures were arrested Wednesday under a new national security law in the largest operation yet against Beijing’s critics, deepening a police crackdown sweeping the financial hub.
Opposition figures and parties took to their Facebook and Twitter accounts to confirm at least 21 arrests, most on a charge of “subversion”.
Two senior police sources who both requested anonymity told AFP “around 50” had been arrested by the city’s new national security unit.
The operation netted a swathe of opposition figures, from veteran former pro-democracy lawmakers such as James To, Andrew Wan and Lam Cheuk Ting to a host of younger activists.
Among the youth campaigners who confirmed their arrests via Facebook were Gwyneth Ho, a 30-year-old former journalist turned social activist, and we 27-year-old district councillor.
Colleagues of Joshua Wong, one of the city’s most famous democracy activists who is currently in jail, said via his official Facebook account that his home was searched by national security police in the same operation.
Hong Kong police did not respond to requests for comment on how many had been arrested and why.
Opposition figures said the arrests were linked to a primary organised by pro-democracy parties last year ahead of local legislative elections which were ultimately scrapped.
More than 600,000 Hong Kongers turned out to vote in the unofficial primary, which was aimed at picking who would stand for election in Hong Kong’s legislature — a body where only half the 70 seats are popularly elected.
The aim of the campaign was to win all 35 elected seats and take a majority in the legislature for the first time.
At the time, Beijing officials had warned that campaigning to win a majority constituted “subversion” under the new security law.
That law was imposed on the city in late June in response to 2019’s huge and often violent pro-democracy protests when millions took to the streets.
The broadly worded law bypassed the city’s legislature and was kept secret until the moment it was enacted.
Officials said the law would only target an “extreme minority” and was needed to restore order.
But it swiftly silenced dissent and outlawed certain peaceful political views in the city with dozens of prominent figures arrested even before Wednesday’s operation.
National security crimes carry a maximum of life in prison and bail is not usually granted for those who are charged.