Hong Kong police arrested 53 democracy activists Wednesday on charges related to a new national security law.
The move appears to be the biggest crackdown yet using the law passed by the government in Beijing. Critics say it is meant to silence dissent in the former British territory.
The raids largely targeted opposition candidates who took part last year in an independently organized, informal vote to be their party’s candidates in the territory’s legislative election. That election has been postponed.
Police did not identify those arrested in the raid. Their identities, however, have been discovered through their social media accounts or have been reported by their organizations. Those arrested are former lawmakers, activists and people involved in organizing the 2020 primaries. They include James To, Lam Cheuk-ting, Benny Tai and Lester Shum.
About 1,000 police took part in the raid on at least 72 places. The raids included searches of a public opinion research group and a law firm.
Among those arrested was U.S. lawyer John Clancey, who works for Ho Tse Wai and Partners. The company was started by Albert Ho, who served as Chairman of the Democratic Party of Hong Kong. The company also reported the raid on its offices on its website.
Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, commented on the situation. He said, “The Chinese Communist Party has further turned the screw in Hong Kong.” Patten also said, “Liberal democracies around the world must continue to speak out against the brutal destruction of a free society.”
Hong Kong Secretary of Security John Lee said those arrested had planned to cause “serious damage” to society. He said the arrests targeted people “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.”
Security law criticized
The national security law passed in June 2020. Critics of the law say it seeks to crush freedoms promised to Hong Kong when it was passed to mainland China in 1997. Rights of the territory’s citizens were to be guaranteed under its Basic Law for 50 years. However, the new national security law sharply limited speech and other freedoms in Hong Kong.
The law permits punishments of up to life in prison for what it calls secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.
Last July, American President Donald Trump ended special treatment for Hong Kong as a result of the law. In an executive order, Trump said that the territory was no longer autonomous enough to be treated differently from mainland China. The U.S. also answered by placing restrictions on officials in Hong Kong and Beijing.
Chinese police said those arrested were part of a campaign to win a majority in Hong Kong’s 70-seat Legislative Council. They said the purpose was to block government proposals meant to increase pressure on democratic reforms. Hong Kong security official John Lee said the government would not permit what he called “subversive acts.”
A legislative election planned for September 2020 was postponed because of the coronavirus crisis, officials said. However, it is now unclear who among the opposition could seek office in any future elections in the territory.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said of the police action: “The mass arrest of politicians and activists in Hong Kong is a grievous attack on Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms…” He said China purposefully misled the world about its security law.
Taiwan’s government also released a statement. It said that Hong Kong had been changed from the “pearl of the Orient” to the “purgatory of the Orient.”
I’m Ashley Thompson.
Yanni Chow and Yoyou Chow reported this story for Reuters. Mario Ritter Jr. adapted it for VOA Learning English with additional news reports. Bryan Lynn was the editor.
Words in This Story
crackdown –n. a serious attempt to punish people for doing something that is not permitted
firm –n. a business organization
turn the screw –idiom something that makes a difficult situation worse
brutal –adj. extremely cruel and harsh
autonomous –adj. having the power and right to govern oneself
grievous –adj. causing severe pain, suffering, or sorrow
purgatory –n. a place or state of suffering
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