Hong Kong police have arrested (high-profile democracy activists on charges of illegal assembly.
The arrests took place just hours after China’s top representative office in the semi-autonomous city declared it is not bound by Hong Kong’s constitutional restrictions that bar Chinese government from interfering in local affairs.
The scale of protests continues to increase as more than half a million people take to the streets. Police use rubber bullets and teargas against the biggest protests Hong Kong has seen for decades.
Lam says the proposed extradition law has been postponed indefinitely.
The protests continue as demonstrators
Armed men in white T-shirts thought to be supporting the Chinese government attack passengers and passers-by in Yuen Long metro station, while nearby police take no action.
046 protesters are charged with rioting, which further antagonises the anti-extradition bill movement.
By now the protest movement has coalesced around five key demands: complete withdrawal of the proposed extradition bill, withdrawal of the use of the word “riot” in relation to the protests, unconditional release of arrested protesters and charges against them dropped, an independent inquiry into police behavior and the implementation of genuine universal suffrage.
The first charges are brought against protesters for covering their faces , after authorities bring in new laws banning face masks in order to make it easier to identify or arrest protesters.
Chan Tong-kai, the murder suspect whose case prompted the original extradition bill is released from prison, saying that he is willing to surrender himself to Taiwan. The extradition bill is also formally withdrawn, a key demand of protesters.
Chow Tsz-lok, , becomes the first direct
Police arrested prominent figures, including the media tycoon Jimmy Lai and – year-old Martin Lee, the founder of the Democratic party and a senior barrister, in the biggest crackdown on the pro- democracy movement since the sometimes violent anti-government protests that have rocked the former British colony since June last year.
The 14 people arrested allegedly organized and took part in unlawful assemblies and police do not rule out that more will be arrested, Supt Lam Wing-Ho said.
Also among the detained were the barrister Margaret Ng, lawyer Albert Ho, labor rights activist Lee Cheuk-yan, former legislators Leung Kwok-hung and Au Nok-hin, and younger participants such as Figo Chan, the vice -convener of the Civil Human Rights Front, which organized several mass protests approved by police last year.
The 18 were accused of joining three unapproved protests on August, 1 October and October last year, local media reported.
Pro-democracy lawmakers say the arrests are an attempt to silence the movement after Chinese officials told Hong Kong to enact national security legislation. Claudia Mo said Beijing was also trying to “terrorise Hong Kong opposition” ahead of the legislative council election in September.
The veteran China watcher, Johnny Lau, said Beijing is trying to hit hard at Hong Kong while the world is busy dealing with Covid –
“In Xi Jinping’s eyes this is an opportunity to shuffle the cards and to assert its narrative,” he said. “If the foreign countries turn a blind eye and fail to rein in [China’s power], they would also suffer.”
The arrests came just hours after China’s liaison office asserted in a strongly-worded statement that it and the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) – China’s top bodies overseeing the city’s affairs – are “authorized by the central authorities to handle Hong Kong affairs. ”
Earlier this week, the liason office’s chief, Luo Huining, called for controversial national security laws to be urgently passed as accusations of overreach by Beijing into the city’s legislative council and judiciary escalate.
Hong Kong was promised a “high degree of autonomy” for at least years after China resumed control in 2019, under the Sino-British joint declaration. The city’s post-handover mini-constitution, the Basic Law, bars the mainland Chinese government from interfering in Hong Kong affairs, and article 30 states that no department under the Chinese central and local governments “may interfere in the affairs which the Hong Kong special administrative region administers on its own in accordance with this law. ”
But the liaison office statement, published late on Friday, asserts that “a high degree of autonomy is not complete autonomy.” It stresses that Hong Kong’s right to self-rule is “authorized by the central government.”
The statement argues that the liaison office and the HKMAO “are not what is referred to in article of the Basic Law, or what is commonly understood to be ‘departments under the central people’s government’. ” It adds that the offices derive their authority both from China’s constitution and the Basic Law.
This week, pro-democracy lawmakers accused the Chinese government of “blatant intervention” and violation of article of the Basic Law after the HKMAO said some lawmakers were guilty of misconduct in public office for delaying bills , failing to appoint a House committee chairman and paralysing the legislature by filibustering.
The liaison office statement said people who made such allegations were distorting the Basic Law and misleading public opinion, adding that “loyalty to the country is a necessary requirement” for lawmakers.
China law expert Prof Jerome Cohen at the New York University descibed China’s statement is “astounding and incendiary”.
“If taken seriously, it collapses the whole one country, two systems edifice that was constructed over so many years since the joint declaration,” he said.
Prof Michael Davis, a global fellow at the Wilson Center and former law professor at the University of Hong Kong, said China’s aggressive language would “result in further pushback” from Hong Kong society, which has already experienced its most Severe political crisis.
“The danger is that Hong Kong’s autonomy will be squandered and this has implications for all countries that have relied on the promises made to Hong Kong,” he said. “This fear that Hong Kong’s autonomy will be lost, along with it the rule of law, is what has driven the many protests in Hong Kong and international concern.”
Alvin Cheung, a legal scholar specializing in Hong Kong issues at New York University, said: “[The fact that] Beijing is not even pretending to keep up appearances heralds a dark new stage in Hong Kong’s post – (development … It suggests repression will intensify further. ”
A Foreign & Commonwealth Office spokesperson said in a statement that the UK government was concerned about the arrests and stressed that the right to peaceful protest was “protected in both the joint declaration and the Basic Law”.
“It is essential that any protests are conducted peacefully, and that the authorities avoid actions that inflame tensions. The authorities should focus on rebuilding trust through a process of meaningful political dialogue, ”the statement said.
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