Benny Tai speaks to members of media outside of the Ma On Shan Police Station on February 28, 2021 … [+]
The Hong Kong government charged 47 people with one count of conspiracy to commit subversion in the largest crackdown on political opposition since the National Security Law was imposed on the city last year. The police said on Sunday that all would be held overnight and appear in court on Monday morning.
Ranging in age from 23 to 64, the former lawmakers and activists charged on Sunday had been among the more than 50 people arrested early last month for taking part in a primary election in July. The informal poll was intended to choose candidates to run for the city’s legislative body, but that election was postponed by the government.
Despite warnings from the government that the primary might contravene the newly adopted National Security Law, more than 600,000 people cast their votes in the poll, far exceeding the expected turnout of 170,000. The event was hailed by some as a clear demonstration of Hong Kong people’s desire for democratic elections.
But the government is contending that the primary is part of a plan by the opposition camp to win enough seats to paralyze the government and unseat the city’s leader, Carrie Lam.
The police had ordered the former lawmakers and activists to visit police stations across the city on Sunday, weeks earlier than expected.
Legal academic Benny Tai was among the group charged on Sunday. He was a key tactician for the primary and the wider democratic movement in the city. He said on social media beforehand that it seemed unlikely the authorities would grant him bail.
Former lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick said in a Facebook post before reporting to the police that he was extremely honored that he might bear the legal consequences for supporting a common ideal. He also thanked Hong Kong people for letting him serve the city for the last 15 years.
Chu is an environmental activist known as the “king of votes” for winning the largest number of votes when he was elected to the Legislative Council in 2016.
The European Union called for the immediate release of all those arrested on Sunday.
“The nature of these charges makes clear that the legitimate political pluralism will no longer be tolerated in Hong Kong,” the the European Union Office to Hong Kong and Macau said in a statement. “We urge authorities to abide by their commitments to fundamental freedoms and the rule of law, as enshrined in the Basic Law and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”
Meanwhile, Chinese officials were holding a two-day forum to solicit views on how to change Hong Kong’s elections to ensure only patriots could govern the city in the future.
Last week, Xia Baolong, the head of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, said Hong Kong’s electoral system must be reformed so that people who oppose China and disrupt Hong Kong aren’t able to hold public office in the future.
FACEBOOK PAGE OF CHU HOI-DICK
I’m a senior editor based in Hong Kong. I’ve been reporting on Asia’s wealthiest people for Forbes and Bloomberg for about a decade. Previously, I worked with British