by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Studio Incendo/Flickr/CC

OVER FIFTY pro-democracy politicians were arrested today in Hong Kong, in the largest set of arrests in an ongoing crackdown that has taken place across past weeks. The arrests effectively seek to wholly eliminate the pan-Democratic opposition.

The arrests took place between 7 AM and 8 AM today, with individuals arrested at their homes. Individuals were arrested on the basis of the national security law passed by China’s National People’s Congress in June or on charges of subverting the state. Among those were arrested were Gwyneth Ho, Jimmy Sham, “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, Kwok Ka-ki, Prince Wong, Tiffany Yuen, Ventus Lau, and others, with the youngest of those arrested being twenty-three years old and the oldest being sixty-four. Hong Kong’s first ethnic minority social worker, Jeffrey Andrews, was also among those arrested. 

Photo credit: Studio Incendo/Flickr/CC

The arrested represent pro-democracy politicians both young and old and from a variety of ideological persuasions, ranging from former Demosisto members such as Yuen to localists such as Lau, and veteran politicians such as pan-Democratic stalwart Leung and political newcomers such as Ho, a former Stand News reporter. Over 1,000 police officers were deployed to carry out the arrests, and 72 locations were searched.

Those arrested were individuals that had participated in primaries last June for the pan-Democratic camp to determine who would be its candidate for the elections for the Hong Kong Legislative Council (LegCo) originally intended to take place in September. As with past elections, the Hong Kong government first moved to block candidates it did not approve of from running in the election, including preventing incumbent legislators from running for reelection. However, later on, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam declared that elections would not take place altogether, delaying them for one year using the pretext of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though the Hong Kong government suggested that pan-Democratic primaries were illegal, it was generally not expected that the Hong Kong government would act on the charges in order to target pan-Democratic lawmakers.

The Hong Kong government claimed that pan-Democratic politicians were involved in a plot to seize the majority in LegCo and prevent the operations of government. In past months, pan-Democratic politicians have sought to block the pro-Beijing camp from passing motions in LegCo through continual filibusters, something that the Hong Kong government has sought to use as a justification to remove them from office with this claim that they are disrupting the basic ability of government to operate.

Consequently, in November, the remaining pan-Democratic legislators in LegCo resigned after the Hong Kong government was granted new powers by China’s National People’s Congress to remove legislators from office at will, circumventing the courts. This mass resignation took place after the Hong Kong government moved to disqualify four pan-Democratic legislators for their filibusters.

In the months since, one has seen numerous waves of arrests targeting pro-democracy politicians and activists. Much international attention has gone to the arrest of three prominent members of the disbanded youth activist group Demosisto, Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow, and Ivan Lam, and Apple Daily owner Jimmy Lai. Wong’s residence was searched by police this morning for an hour and a half, though Wong remains in jail. To this extent, former University of Hong Kong professor Benny Tai, one of the organizers of Occupy Central, was also arrested today as part of the crackdown, along with district councilor Andrew Chiu. It is feared by some that the crackdown will next turn toward pro-democracy, while police have sought to label Tai as one of the ringleaders of the plot to seize control of LegCo. In comments, Hong Kong Secretary for Security John Lee has claimed that this was part of a ten-step “mutual destruction” plot by pan-Democrats, referencing an editorial by Tai and broader calls for “mutual destruction” tactics to be used in the movement for democracy in Hong Kong that began with localists.

Apple Daily owner Jimmy Lai (center). Photo credit: Studio Incendo/Flickr/CC

The offices of the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute (HKPORI) were searched by authorities today, with the offices of pro-democracy media outlets Stand News, InMedia, and the Apple Daily visited by police. Though police did not search the offices of Stand News, they delivered a request for documents related to the national security law. While earlier reports that HKPORI director Robert Chung had been arrested later turned out to be incorrect, the police search of HKPORI’s offices was particularly concerning because HKPORI conducted the technical organization of the primary last year. It is thought that police may have been seeking stored information regarding the 600,000 participants of the primary, but HKPORI has stated that this information was physically destroyed before the search took place.

International reactions to the arrests have come from members of the incoming Biden administration such as Secretary of State nominee Anthony Blinken, European Union politicians, and others. In comments, Taiwanese government spokespersons referred to Hong Kong as having become the “Purgatory of the Orient”.

It was previously thought that the Chinese government’s wave of crackdowns conducted both domestically and in Hong Kong was aimed at avoiding scrutiny from the international world, by timing arrests with the holidays. Nevertheless, as we enter the new year, it is clear that such crackdowns will likely continue, and may grow in scope.

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