In a move as sudden as it was unprecedented, dozens of pro-democracy politicians and campaigners in Hong Kong were arrested by authorities in several early morning raids.
The crackdown has already been decried in several quarters as a despicable assault on freedom.
Subverting State Power
The authorities accused the activists of subverting state power by conducting primaries and declaring their intention to win a majority of seats in the Hong Kong election. According to the recently introduced national security law (NSL), their actions amounted to subversion, a crime with a maximum penalty of life in prison for principal offenders.
The Beijing-imposed NSL was, according to Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam, intended only for a small group of criminal elements and would not adversely affect the lives of regular Hongkongers, making this widespread crackdown difficult to explain or justify.
By the time the crackdown was over, more than 50 individuals were confirmed to be arrested by social media posts and news reports. Among those arrested were organizers and pollsters of last year’s unofficial pan-democrat primaries, every candidate that challenged, and an American lawyer. While they were being arrested, some of the targets live-streamed the whole process while others were on other social media platforms, including Twitter. According to authorities, their actions of participating in primary polling were considered as subversion.
An Attack on Democracy
The move by Hong Kong and Beijing authorities has been met by widespread international condemnation and diplomatic sanctions, although these are yet to sway both parties. Closer to home, several observers such a senior Chinese researcher at Human Rights Watch, Maya Wang, opined that the arrests removed “the remaining veneer of democracy in the city.” Wang lamented the failure of Beijing to learn from past mistakes in Hong Kong and expressed certainty that the Hong Kong people would continue to agitate for their right to vote and contest elections in a democratically elected government.