At least five prominent activists were rounded up in Hong Kong on Friday in an early morning swoop that appeared designed to snuff out opposition and further protests over the weekend.
Joshua Wong Chi-fung and Agnes Chow Ting – two leaders of the pro-democracy organization Demosistō – were arrested for alleged involvement in a protest surrounding the Wan Chai police headquarters on June 21.
Three other activists were also taken into custody, with independence campaigner Andy Chan detained at Hong Kong airport, district councilor Rick Hui and former student leader Althea Suen all arrested separately.
Meanwhile, a major rally planned on Saturday was banned by police, who said they feared the march would spark further trouble.
Hong Kong has been locked in three months of political turmoil, with increasingly violent clashes between police and protesters that have prompted an escalating public relations campaign from China.
Protesters had planned another mass rally on Saturday (August 31), as it is the fifth anniversary of Beijing’s rejection of a call for universal suffrage in the semi-autonomous city. The date was a pivotal moment, sparking the 79-day Umbrella Movement in 2014, which seeded the ground for today’s protests.
Amnesty International said the police moves on Friday were “ludicrous” and described the arrest of Wong and Chow as an “outrageous assault on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly”. The arrests were “scare tactics straight out of Beijing’s playbook”, it claimed.
Police denied that the arrests were made designed to hamper the weekend’s protests.
Wong, Chow charged
Joshua Wong, who is the secretary-general of Demosisto, was grabbed at about 7.30am while on his way to South Horizons MTR station, according to a statement on the group’s Facebook page. He was suddenly pushed into a private car on the street and sent to police headquarters in Wan Chai for questioning over three charges.
Agnes Chow was also arrested at her home and escorted to Wan Chai police station. According to police, Wong and Chow, both 22, were charged with inciting others to participate in an unauthorized assembly and participating in an unauthorized assembly. Wong was also charged with organizing an unauthorized assembly.
The pair were charged on Friday afternoon then given bail by a court. The main charge carries up to five years in jail. Demosisto said it had arranged for lawyers to deal with the case.
Demosisto vice-chairman Isaac Cheng Ka-long said police wanted to suppress further protests with “white terror” created by the arrest of protesters. Cheng said Demosisto had never been a key organizer of the anti-extradition protests, which have no formal leaders.
On June 21, several days after Wong finished a two-month term in jail for the Occupy Movement in 2014, Wong called for thousands of protesters, who were occupying Harcourt Road, to move to surround the Wan Chai police headquarters. The protest lasted for more than 12 hours until the crowd was dispersed by rain at midnight. Protesters threw eggs and paint at the police headquarters and drew graffiti on the building’s walls.
The arrests followed attacks on protest organizers on Thursday and come before a planned march by anti-extradition protesters from Central to Sai Wan on Saturday (August 31).
The Civil Human Rights Front announced on Friday that it had to cancel a planned march on Saturday after it failed in an appeal to get approval from the police. It said it had no choice but to cancel the march as it had to protect marchers’ safety.
The Police Force said the march was banned as the route is close to some high-risk buildings, including Government House, the Court of Final Appeal in Central and the liaison office in Sai Wan. It said it believed some protesters would deviate from the route and vandalize these buildings.
On Thursday afternoon, Jimmy Sham Tsz-kit, convener of the Civil Human Rights Front, and a friend were attacked by two masked men with a metal rod and a baseball bat.
Sham was not unhurt but his friend’s arm was hit by a weapon three times. Police have yet to arrest any suspect.
Several hours later, Max Chung Kin-ping, who organized a legal anti-triad protest in Yuen Long in July, was attacked by four men wielding metal rods and umbrellas while giving an interview to a reporter on the bank of the Lam Tsuen River in Tai Po. No one has been arrested for that attack either.
Leung Chun-ying, the former city chief executive and vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, has claimed that the Hong Kong protests are no longer peaceful, but aimed at using violence and illegal means to paralyze society and change the regime. He made these remarks in a post on Facebook.
Leung said the Hong Kong and central governments had various political, administrative, fiscal, legal and armed forces to use, although a lot of them hade not been utilized. If necessary, the central government could use a lot of more powerful and effective non-official forces, he warned, adding that the authorities should be prepared for different situations. However, Leung did not elaborate on what the “non-official forces” are.
However, Maria Tam Wai-chu, a member of the Committee for the Basic Law of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, said Hong Kong is a long way from having to declare emergency powers or to ask the Chinese military to intervene. The city government could use different articles in the police ordinance and articles on public order to contain the situation, Tam, told Reuters in an interview.
The central government hopes to end the chaotic situation in Hong Kong by China’s national day on October 1 but that is not a deadline, Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Global Times, told Hong Kong media during a visit to the city.
Hong Kong would suffer the most if its chaotic situation continues for a long period of time, Hu said. “The country may lose face a little bit. But is it really that important?” he added.
Hu said the central government would only intervene if Hong Kong loses control, or if the government and the police are paralyzed or a humanitarian crisis occurs.
With reporting by AFP