Hong Kong police detain high-profile pro-democracy figures

Fifteen activists arrested in biggest such crackdown since start of anti-government rallies

Hong Kong police arrested 15 activists, including veteran politicians, a publishing tycoon and senior barristers, in raids on Saturday in the biggest crackdown on the city's pro-democracy movement since the outbreak of mass protests last year.

Among those detained on charges of illegal assembly were Democratic Party founder Martin Lee (81), millionaire publishing tycoon Jimmy Lai (71), and former politician and barrister Margaret Ng (72), according to media and political sources.

In all, one serving and nine former legislators were arrested, including veteran activists Lee Cheuk-yan and Yeung Sum.

Democratic legislator Claudia Mo, who was not among those detained, said the city government, led by chief executive Carrie Lam, was trying to "introduce a ring of terror in Hong Kong".

“They are doing whatever they can to try to silence, to take down, the local opposition,” Ms Mo said, pointing to upcoming legislative elections in September in which democrats hope to win back veto power in the city assembly.

Hong Kong police superintendent Lam Wing-ho told reporters that 14 people aged between 24 and 81 were arrested on charges of organising and participating in “unlawful assemblies” on August 18th and October 1st and 20th last year. He did not identify the 14.

Those days saw big and at times violent protests across the city.

Five of the 14 were also arrested for publicising unauthorised public meetings on September 30th and October 19th, Mr Lam said.

Police sources later confirmed the arrest of Leung Yin-chung as well as the 14. Mr Leung is the only serving legislator to be caught up in the raids so far.

The 15 were all due to appear in court on May 18th, but Mr Lam said more arrests were possible. Some of those arrested on Saturday were later released on bail.

The raids mark the biggest crackdown on the city’s pro-democracy movement since the beginning of anti-government protests across the former British colony in June last year.

Extradition Bill

Marchers initially targeted a now-scrapped Bill proposing to allow the sending of suspects to mainland China for trial, but the protests broadened into demands for full democracy and a public investigation of the use of force by police.

After his release on bail on Saturday afternoon, Martin Lee said he did not regret his actions.

“I’m proud to have the chance to walk our democracy road with Hong Kong’s excellent young people,” he said.

Authorities in Hong Kong have arrested more than 7,800 people over their involvement in the protests, including many on rioting charges that can carry jail terms of up to 10 years.

It is not clear how many of them are currently in custody.

The spike in arrests comes amid deepening fears over pressure from Beijing on Hong Kong's independent judiciary.

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 is under assault from the Communist Party leadership in Beijing. The judiciary, they said, is in a fight for its survival.

Saturday’s arrests come after several months of relative calm amid a partial coronavirus lockdown but as Chinese and city government officials launch a new push for tougher security laws for the city.

Hong Kong returned to Beijing in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula that guarantees it broad freedoms not seen in mainland China, and a high degree of autonomy. – Reuters