Hong Kong arrests 53 pro-democracy activists in latest crackdown

53 of Hong Kong’s most prominent pro-democracy activists have been arrested in morning raids, the largest national crackdown since the passing of the National Security Law last year.

In the early hours of Wednesday the 6th, an estimated 1000 police officers took part in raids across 72 locations across the city. In total, 53 pro-democracy activists were confirmed to have been arrested on suspicion of trying to “overthrow” the government in the wake of unofficial primaries being held to pick opposition candidates for the postponed 2020 election. This is the largest crackdown within the semi-autonomous region of Hong Kong since the passing of the new National Security Law in June of last year in response to months of violent protests.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying has defended the arrests saying it was necessary to stop “external forces and individuals [colluding] to undermine China’s stability and security.” The arrests have been met with international backlash, with Amnesty International describing the arrests as the “starkest demonstration yet of how the National Security Law has been weaponized to punish anyone who dares to challenge the establishment.”

Included in the arrests were two academics, 13 candidates in the unofficial primaries, prominent pro-democracy protesters including James To, Lam Cheuk-ting, Claudio Mo and Benny Tai and for the first time a foreigner – the human rights lawyer John Clancey, an American citizen. The home of already detained Joshua Wong was also searched. The news outlets Apple Daily and Stand News which both took part in the organisation of the primaries were ordered to hand over information.  

Hours after the arrests John Lee, Hong Kong’s security secretary confirmed the arrests. Speaking at the city’s Legislative Council he said the government will not tolerate “subversive” behaviour. When the National Security Law was introduced it was claimed it would only be used to target a minor number of protesters, but the large-scale arrests on Wednesday has led to fear of much larger crackdowns in the future. If charged, the detainees could face life in prison. A growing number of activists are fleeing the territory

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Aislinn Wright

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October 2021
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