HONG KONG • Police have cracked down on Hong Kong democracy activists, saying they would be charged over the Umbrella Movement mass protest, a day after a pro-Beijing candidate was chosen as the city's new leader.
The move yesterday provoked anger and disbelief among democrats, and heightened political tension in the Chinese-ruled city.
Former chief secretary Carrie Lam was on Sunday chosen by a 1,200-person committee to lead the city. She pledged in her victory speech to bridge political divisions that have hindered policymaking and legislative work.
Yet, less than 24 hours later, several students and academics who took part in the 2014 pro-democracy movement, also known as Occupy Central, said they received phone calls from the police informing them that they faced criminal charges.
Rights group Amnesty International said the police charges showed that the city's freedom of expression and right to peaceful assembly were "under a sustained attack".
All nine activists reported to Wan Chai police station last night, with around 200 supporters gathering outside.
Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan said she received a call from the police yesterday morning, telling her she would be charged with causing a public nuisance, with a maximum sentence of seven years.
"They said it was related to the 'illegal occupation' of 2014," she said, describing it as a "death kiss" from incumbent Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying, who will hand over the reins to Mrs Lam on July 1.
Ms Chan said she was arrested at the end of the protests, but had never been charged.
The police did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
Asked by reporters about the timing, Mrs Lam said she could not intervene with prosecutions carried out by the administration of Mr Leung, who protesters say ordered the firing of tear gas on them in 2014.
"I made it very clear that I want to unite society and bridge the divide that has been causing us concern, but all these actions should not compromise the rule of law in Hong Kong and also the independent prosecution process that I have just mentioned," said Mrs Lam.
Mrs Lam met Mr Leung earlier yesterday. They shook hands and expressed confidence in a "smooth and effective" leadership transition.
The next few months will be critical for them, with Chinese President Xi Jinping expected to pay a visit on July 1 to celebrate Hong Kong's 20th anniversary of the handover from British rule, with large protests expected.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE