47 Hong Kong pro-democracy activists are expected to appear at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court after being detained by police on Sunday on charges of conspiracy to commit subversion under the sweeping national security law. The former lawmakers and democracy advocates had been previously arrested in January but were released. They have been detained again for allegedly violating the new national security law that was imposed by Beijing, for participating in unofficial election primaries for the semi-autonomous Chinese territory’s legislature last year.
“The Chinese and Hong Kong authorities promised that the national security law would be used in a very narrow sense and it’s clear that that is no longer the case.” Jonathan Williams, Head of Political and Communications at the British Consulate-General in Hong Kong, said outside the court while responding to whether the case affects the U.K.’s BN(O) visa policy for Hong Kong people looking to settle in the U.K.
Of the 55 opposition figures initially arrested in January, 47 were charged with conspiracy to commit subversion on Sunday. The former lawmakers and activists were being detained pending a court appearance Monday, the police said in a statement. Some had been asked to report to the police’s national security branch on Sunday, more than a month earlier than scheduled.
The group were arrested in January on suspicion of subversion for their roles in helping organize a primary for Legislative Council elections initially scheduled for last September. It drew more than 600,000 voters.
It’s the first charge under the national security law for Joshua Wong — who testified before the U.S. Congress last year. He is serving a sentence of more than a year handed down in December for a separate charge related to a protest in 2019; this is the first time he’s been charged under the national security law.
Others charged on Sunday include veteran activist Leung Kwok Hung, former lawmaker Alvin Yeung, and the ex-convener of Civil Human Rights Front, Jimmy Sham, according to their respective Facebook pages.
The police didn’t charge American lawyer John Clancey, who was involved in the primary and was among those picked up in January, he told reporters after having his bail extended Sunday. He said he has to report to the police again in early May.
Police allege the primary, as well as plans to use a provision in the city’s mini-constitution to vote down the budget and force the Hong Kong chief executive’s resignation, were part of an illegal attempt to paralyze the city’s government. The election was eventually postponed by a full year, with the government citing the coronavirus.
Beijing is tightening control over the Asian financial center after a historic wave of democracy protests gripped Hong Kong for months in 2019. The national security law carries sentences as long as life in prison depending on the severity of the offense.
While almost 100 people have been arrested under the new law, prosecutors had previously only brought charges against 10 of them. The most prominent is media mogul Jimmy Lai, who has been denied bail and is awaiting trial on charges that he colluded with foreign powers to impose sanctions or engage in hostile activities against Hong Kong or China.
The National People’s Congress, China’s legislature, will begin its annual session on Friday in Beijing. Reforms to Hong Kong’s electoral system giving Beijing more control could come at this year’s event, according to Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam.
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