Canada is calling for the immediate release of 53 pro-democracy figures who were arrested in Hong Kong Wednesday after being accused of violating Beijing’s new national security law, specifically on charges of subversion of state power.
The mass arrests include pro-democracy activists, former lawmakers, and politicians—the largest crackdown on the city’s opposition camp since the draconian security law went into effect on June 30, 2020.
Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne condemned the mass arrests as a “grave repression of political pluralism.”
“It demonstrates a total disregard for Hong Kong’s Basic Law & further erosion of the ‘one country two systems’,” Champagne said on Twitter Wednesday. “We call for their immediate release.”
The arrestees were apprehended for their roles in a primary election held by the pan-democracy camp ahead of the Legislative Council (LegCo) elections in September 2020, which were eventually postponed by Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, at that time citing the local surge in COVID-19 infection cases.
Of them, six were placed in custody under suspicion of organizing and planning criminal activities to subvert state power, while the other 47 were arrested for involvement in such activities, the Hong Kong police said.
Both are punishable offences under the national security law which penalizes vaguely-defined crimes such as subversion and secession with a maximum of life imprisonment. The police have since frozen HKD 1.6 million (CAD 262,334) worth of assets related to the case.
The primary elections, organized by local political association Power for Democracy on July 11 and July 12, 2020, aimed to select 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 turned up to cast their votes. But the large turnout enraged Lam who viewed it as a threat to the national security law.
“I will just put down a further note of warning: if this so-called ‘primary’ election’s purpose is to achieve the ultimate goal of delivering what they call a ‘35+’ with the objective of objecting to, resisting every policy initiative of the Hong Kong SAR Government, then it may fall into the category of subverting the state power,” Lam said in a press conference on July 13, 2020.
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 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.
Hong Kong pro-democracy advocate Nathan Law, who fled Hong Kong and now lives in the UK shared a post on Twitter on the status of Joshua Wong, a fellow activist who was sentenced to 13.5 months on Dec. 2, 2020, by Hong Kong authorities for organizing an “unlawful assembly” on June 21, 2019.
The latest update of my dearest friend @joshuawongcf: being treated as the most serious felon, escorted with shackles and chains. He was sentenced 13.5 months last month due to joining a peaceful assembly, and now facing NSL prosecution, which can lead to life-long imprisonment. pic.twitter.com/Ie6OmoBHkf
— Nathan Law 羅冠聰 😷 (@nathanlawkc) January 7, 2021
The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), a group of international cross-party legislators, said in their statement on Wednesday that Lam’s and Beijing’s actions provide “further proof that this law is being used to crackdown on all forms of political opposition in the city” and “their determination to destroy the last remnants of Hong Kong’s autonomy, freedoms and rule of law.”
Conservative Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Michael Chong called the mass arrests “an assault on democratic rights.”
“It’s time to apply Magnitsky sanctions on those responsible,” Chong wrote on Twitter.
Alliance Canada Hong Kong, a pro-democracy group, made an urgent demand to the Canadian government and allied democratic nations to do the following:
- Immediately invoke sanctions against human rights offenders in Hong Kong and China and those responsible for the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy
- Reform Canada’s foreign policy on the Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Republic of China—including domestic policy changes that prioritizes the protection of Canadians’ fundamental freedom from erosion, and proactively combat and investigate Chinese Communist Party interference in Canadian society and combat foreign interference into Canadian institutions
- Create asylum pathways to help Hongkongers flee mass detention, torture, and persecution, and demand amnesty for all Hongkongers who were arrested, charged, and imprisoned for political dissidence
Frank Fang and Eva Fu contributed to this article.