HONG KONG—Police arrested more than 50 pro-democracy figures they accused of plotting to paralyze the Hong Kong government through the city’s legislature, targeting much of the opposition camp’s leadership in the biggest sweep using a national security law since it was imposed by China six months ago.
Those detained on suspicion of subversion early Wednesday included most of the pro-democracy politicians who had sought to run for the city’s aborted legislative council elections last year, as well as other high-profile activists and academics. An American lawyer was also taken away by police. The allegations related to primaries held by the opposition bloc in July to select candidates as part of an effort to win a majority in the lawmaking body and so be able to block government policies.
Hong Kong’s Secretary for Security, John Lee, on Wednesday said those involved had plotted a scheme intending to paralyze the Hong Kong government. He said they had wanted to veto the government’s budget and oust the chief executive by obtaining 35 or more seats in the legislature, adding it was “an organized plan that would plunge Hong Kong into an abyss.” Police made 53 arrests, marking a dramatic escalation in efforts to muzzle opposition in the global financial center, which was racked by monthslong antigovernment street protests in 2019.
“It’s a blatant attempt to intimidate pro-democracy activists and warn people not to engage in politics and collaboration,” said Emily Lau, who served seven terms as a legislator and is a former chairperson of the city’s Democratic Party.
Police said in a briefing that six were arrested on suspicion of organizing the subversion attempt, citing the words of legal academic Benny Tai, who had a column published on Apple Daily in April last year about the 35-plus campaign. They said officers searched 72 locations with warrants, and four media companies were given a court order to provide materials related to the investigation.