HONG KONG – Police arrested seven pro-democracy politicians early Sunday during a heated meeting in May as the local legislature’s chambers were filled with protests against a struggle for control of a key committee.
The arrests come as the Hong Kong and Beijing governments made major efforts to curb dissent after a year of intense protests in the semi-autonomous city.
The authorities have aggressively used the social distancing rules against demonstrators, the number of which has decreased since last year. And a sweeping national security law that Beijing imposed on the city in late June provides potentially harsh penalties for a range of ill-defined crimes such as subversion and collusion.
Politicians arrested on Sunday were embroiled in heated arguments over the control of a key committee in the Hong Kong Legislative Council. For months, a pro-democracy legislature had stalled debates on several key bills, enraged the establishment camp and condemned the Beijing government and powerful Hong Kong liaison office.
On May 8, pro-government lawmakers, some of whom hold a majority in lawmakers due to their predominance of seats reserved for industry and other interest groups, chaired the committee. This law sparked protests in the legislature again.
Starry Lee, the establishment lawmaker who took over the committee, expelled several pro-democracy representatives during the tumultuous session.
Democracy-friendly lawmakers Wu Chi-wai, Andrew Wan, Helena Wong and Fernando Cheung were arrested on Sunday along with Kwok Wing-kin, the Hong Kong Labor Party leader, and former lawmakers Eddie Chu and Ray Chan on their social media Accounts.
Police confirmed the arrests of six men and one woman charged with contempt and meddling under the ordinance of the Territory’s Legislative Council. They did not rule out the possibility of arresting more people about the incident.
Mr. Chan had previously opened a private case against Kwok Wai-keung, an incumbent legislature who pulled him to the ground during the controversial session. Mr. Chan said he started the private prosecution, a little-used mechanism in Hong Kong law, because he didn’t think the authorities would take action against Mr. Kwok otherwise.
The Hong Kong Legislative Council has seen an increasing number of protests from lawmakers in recent years, particularly from members of the opposition camp, who have gained prominence through anti-government protests. Before the city was struck by large street rallies last year to thwart a proposal that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, the measure was discussed in sometimes intense and chaotic sessions in the legislature.
The Hong Kong government postponed the parliamentary elections scheduled for September, citing the risk of Covid-19 spreading. The pro-democracy camp condemned the move, saying it was a delaying tactic to stave off a loss of settlement. Mr. Chu and Mr. Chan said in September that they would not stay in office because they believed that the legislature’s one year extension was against the law.