Arrests of pro-democracy leaders in Hong Kong “deeply disturbing”
“The arrests of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong are deeply worrying – the politicized application of the law is incompatible with the universal values of freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly,” wrote the head of American diplomacy on his website social Twitter.
Hong Kong police on Saturday carried out a large-scale operation against leaders of the pro-democracy movement, arresting 14 people for supporting or participating in the massive protests that rocked Asia’s financial center last year.
Among the detainees is media magnate Jimmy Lai, 72, founder of the opposition newspaper Apple Daily, who was detained at his home.
MPs or former MPs Martin Lee, Margaret Ng, Albert Ho, Leung Kwok-hung and Au Nok-hin, accused of organizing and participating in illegal rallies in August and October last year, were also arrested, police said.
Another five people, also detained, are suspected of having promoted prohibited demonstrations in September and October.
“The detainees are or will be charged with crimes related” to this type of action, said police commissioner Lam Wing-ho.
The 14 detainees will appear in court in mid-May.
Jimmy Lai had already been arrested in February for his participation in a demonstration in August 2019, which the police banned for security reasons.
“I ended up being arrested. How do I feel now? I feel very relieved,” Lai told reporters after his release on bail.
“For so many years, for so many months, so many young people have been arrested and prosecuted, while I have not been arrested. I am sorry,” added the lawyer who founded the first political party in Hong Kong, where he is considered the father of democracy.
At the time, he stressed that he did not regret his actions and that he was proud to support Hong Kong’s youth in their struggle for democracy.
Hong Kong was shaken for several months in 2019 by huge demonstrations, some of which were violent.
The protests were initially sparked by a law – now abandoned – that allowed extraditions to mainland China, where citizens have fewer rights and the judicial system is much more opaque than in the territory.
Saturday’s arrests of pro-democracy leaders in Hong Kong are the final blow to the concept of “One country, two systems,” said Sophie Richardson, director of Human Rights Watch in China, referring to the principle that guarantees freedoms in the city that the Chinese on the continent do not.
“It is difficult to predict Beijing’s next steps, but it appears that Hong Kong leaders will continue to allow abuses instead of defending the rights of Hong Kong residents,” he said.
The major 2019 protests in semi-autonomous territory quickly turned into a pro-democracy movement, demanding more freedoms, which has become the biggest challenge to Beijing’s power since the former British colony returned to Chinese administration in 1997.
The demonstrations and clashes with the police gradually ended, partly because of exhaustion and arrests, but also because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Chinese leaders refused to yield to the demands of pro-democracy activists, such as the organization of free elections in the territory, an investigation into police violence during the protests and an amnesty for more than 7,000 people (many under 20 years of age). age) detained during demonstrations.