The arrests made on Jan. 6 mark the largest mass arrests since the national security law went into effect on June 30. The law punishes crimes such as subversion and secession with a maximum punishment of life imprisonment.
The primary elections, organized by local political association Power for Democracy, were held on July 11 and July 12, with the aim of selecting the most promising pro-democracy candidates to run for legislative office. The pan-democracy camp was hoping to win a majority or more than 35 seats in LegCo.
Over 600,000 Hongkongers cast their ballots in the primary vote.
The LegCo elections, initially scheduled for Sept. 6, 2020, were eventually postponed by Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, at that time citing the local surge in infection cases caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, the novel coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19.
Among the arrested were former lawmakers of the local Civic Party and Democratic Party, including Wu Chi-wai, James To, Andrew Wan, Lam Cheuk-ting, and Alvin Yeung. Other former lawmakers arrested included Gary Fan, Eddie Chu, Au Nok-hin, and Leung Kwok-hung.
Well-known local activist Jimmy Sham, who is currently one of the vice-chairs of local party League of the Social Democrats and the former CHRF convener, was also arrested. Sham ran in the primary vote in the geographical constituency Kowloon West. Other primary candidates arrested on Wednesday included Lester Chum, Owen Chow, Tiffany Yuen, and Gwyneth Ho.
Former Hong Kong University law professor Benny Tai, who was also an organizer of the primary elections, was also arrested.
In the United States, several lawmakers took to Twitter to voice their concerns. “I stand with the freedom fighters in Hong Kong as Communist China continues to attack democracy,” wrote Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.).
“This is Communist China’s draconian national security law in action, and it’s just the beginning,” said Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.).
British NGO Hong Kong Watch condemned Beijing via Twitter, writing, “Beijing is once again undermining Hong Kong’s democracy & breaching its obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration.”
“The international community must respond with Magnitsky sanctions and other punitive measures demonstrating that an attack on democracy has consequences,” the NGO added.
Washington-based advocacy group HKDC also took to its Twitter account to condemn the mass arrests. “Make no mistake, this is what authoritarian regimes and dictators do,” HKDC wrote.
Nathan Law, a Hong Kong activist currently in exile in London, called on European officials to take action. “In response to Hong Kong’s political crackdown, I urge the European Parliament to halt the EU-China investment deal and EU to sanction China&HK officials who are responsible to the arrests,” he wrote on Twitter.
The business investment deal was inked on Dec. 30, 2020, amid concerns about human rights abuses in China.✪