Over 50 pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong were arrested Wednesday for violating the city’s controversial national security law, local media reported in the largest crackdown on the democratic opposition under the new law to date.
The arrests in the Asian financial center included prominent democratic figures and former lawmakers James To, Lam Cheuk Ting and Lester Shum, according to the Democratic Party Facebook page and public broadcaster RTHK.
The police did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Democratic Party’s Facebook page said the police arrested the activists for participating in an independently organized vote last year to select Democratic candidates for an upcoming general election, which the Hong Kong and Beijing governments warned about that they could potentially break the new law.
The attempt to win a majority in the 70-seat city legislature, which some candidates say could be used to block government proposals and increase pressure for democratic reform, has been viewed as an “act of subversion in violation of national security law”. said the party.
The full election to the Legislative Council has since been postponed, with the government citing the coronavirus.
The security law was imposed on the former British colony by Beijing in June.
It punishes what China broadly defines as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life imprisonment, and has been condemned by the West and human rights groups as a tool for cracking down on dissent in the semi-autonomous, Chinese-ruled city.
Authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing say it’s important to fill gaping gaps in national security defenses exposed by months of, sometimes violent, protests against the government and against China that rocked the global financial center in 2019.