Dozens of pro-democracy activists and opposition figures were charged with conspiring to commit subversion in Hong Kong on Sunday, in the biggest crackdown on the opposition under the National Security Act imposed by Beijing last year.
Hong Kong police said in a statement that 47 people have been arrested and will appear in court on Monday. Police did not name those charged.
But a slew of social media posts quickly emerged naming some of them and local media filmed them as reported to police stations after being summoned by authorities.
Joshua Wong, a leading figure in the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong who is already in prison for his role in an anti-government rally in 2019, has been charged with conspiracy to commit subversion, according to a post on his Facebook page.
The Facebook page of Lester Shum, another leader of the protest, also said he had been charged.
Before entering a police station, activist Sam Cheung told reporters that Hong Kong people were “having a really tough time these days,” according to Reuters. “I hope everyone doesn’t give up on Hong Kong … (and) keep fighting,” he said.
The Facebook pages of prominent activists, including Eddie Chu, Alvin Yeung, Owen Chow, Fergus Leung and Tiffany Yuen, have also said they have been charged. NBC News was unable to verify this. Reuters reported that former law professor Benny Tai had also been charged.
The detentions were condemned by rights groups, including Amnesty International, who called them a “scandalous attack on peaceful expression and association” on Twitter.
Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch also tweeted that Beijing was showing “its true colors”.
“Hong Kong democracy activists are accused of ‘subversion’. Why? Because they organized an informal primary election to select the strongest pro-democracy candidates. In other words, “subversion” promotes democracy, “he wrote.
The detentions come after dozens of democracy activists and former lawmakers were arrested in a large-scale police operation last month on charges of organizing and participating in an unofficial primary last July.
Download the NBC News app for the latest news and politics
Pro-democracy activists and lawmakers held primary elections to determine which candidates they should field in a now postponed legislative election that would increase their chances of securing a majority of seats in the legislature. Gaining a majority would allow the pro-democracy camp to vote against bills they deem pro-Beijing, block budgets and cripple the government.
But authorities said activists’ participation in the primaries was part of a plan to cripple the city’s legislature and subvert state power.
Beijing imposed the National Security Law last June to quell dissent after months of anti-government protests in 2019 against China’s alleged suppression of fundamental freedoms and autonomy from Hong Kong. The new law punishes acts of subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorism with life imprisonment.
Following the transfer from Hong Kong to China by the British in 1997, Hong Kong operated under a “one country, two systems” framework which gives it freedoms not found on the mainland.
But in recent years, Beijing has asserted more control over the city, drawing criticism that Hong Kong’s freedoms are under attack.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Ed Flanagan contributed.