Hong Kong police arrested at least 50 pan-democrats on Wednesday. Photo: Facebook / Lam Cheuk-ting / Ng Kin-wai

At least 50 pro-democracy activists and former lawmakers were arrested in Hong Kong on Wednesday morning for allegedly violating the national security law.

The arrested, including former University of Hong Kong law professor and Occupy central organizer Benny Tai, were accused of subverting the state’s power by organizing and participating in a primary vote held by pan-democrats in July last year for the Legislative Council elections.

In Hong Kong, “pan-democrats” generally refers to members in the pro-democracy camp ranging from moderate or traditional democrats to localists. Moderate democrats, including members of the Democratic Party and the Civic Party, have focused more on their work in the Legislative Council while localists put more efforts into protests and social movements.

Beijing had banned some localists from joining the LegCo elections and accused them of promoting “Hong Kong Independence.” Some localists tend not to call themselves pan-democrats, thinking that the term may not represent the younger voters.

The LegCo elections were originally set to take place last September but were postponed by a year for public health reasons. The primaries, initiated and partly organized by Tai, helped the pro-democracy camp choose the most promising candidates for the LegCo elections in order to optimize their votes.

A majority of the winners were localists and key figures who participated in the anti-extradition bill protests in 2019.

Others arrested include former lawmakers Gary Fan, Chu Hoi-dick and Au Nok-hin, the Civic Party’s Alvin Yeung and the Democratic Party’s Wu Chi-wai, James To and Andrew Wan.

The League of Social Democrats said former lawmaker Leung Kwok-Hung and one of its vice-chairs, Jimmy Sham, were detained.

Ng Kin-wai, a social activist and member of the Yuen Long District Council, posted a video on Facebook showing his arrest while at home. Former lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting also posted a video of police action on social media.

More than 600,000 queued in the intense summer heat at over 250 polling stations across Hong Kong for the two-day vote on July 11 and 12 last year. The vote opened hours after police raided an opinion pollster who was helping to conduct the primaries.

The vote happened 12 days after the national security law had been implemented in Hong Kong on June 30.

At the time, Chief Executive Carrie Lam warned that the primaries could amount to an act of subversion.

The Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau also said in a statement last July that the government had received complaints that the primaries “may have allegedly interfered with and manipulated” the elections and jeopardized the integrity of the electoral process.

Beijing was apparently concerned that the primaries might amount to a type of “color revolution” – as episodes of unrest in the Ukraine and during the Arab Spring had been termed.