HONG KONG (REUTERS, AFP) - Hong Kong police on Tuesday (Dec 8) laid charges against eight activists, including three former lawmakers, over anti-government protests this year, the latest move in a relentless crackdown on opposition forces in the Chinese-ruled city.
The suspects, Wu Chi-wai from the Democratic Party, Chu Hoi-dick, district councilors Andy Chui and Lancelot Chan, along with four League of Social Democrats members including former lawmaker “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, were arrested by officers on Tuesday morning, public broadcaster RTHK reported.
Police said that on June 30, the suspects incited people to take part in unauthorised protests to be held the following day, and some of them also led a march in Wan Chai.
On July 1 - the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to Chinese rule - police fired tear gas and pepper balls, and deployed one water cannon to disperse thousands of defiant demonstrators. The protesters took to the streets to vent their anger at Beijing’s passing of a sweeping national security law for the territory on June 30.
All eight suspects on Tuesday were released on bail before their first court appearance scheduled for Dec 17, RTHK reported. If found guilty of inciting, organising and joining an "unauthorised assembly" on July 1, they could face a maximum of five years in prison.
Tuesday's charges come a day after eight people aged between 16 and 34 were arrested, including three on suspicion of violating a sweeping national security law, over a brief demonstration at a university campus last month.
Beijing has imposed the security legislation on its freest city, saying it was vital to plug gaping holes in national security defences exposed by months of often violent anti-government and anti-China protests that rocked the city last year.
The law punishes what Beijing broadly defines as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in jail.
Opposition politicians and Western governments fear the law is being used to suppress dissent and erode wide-ranging freedoms guaranteed to the former British colony when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
However, Hong Kong’s administration insists the law has not impinged on the rights to freedom of speech and assembly guaranteed to the territory.
On Monday, the United States announced further sanctions to punish Beijing for imposing the law on Hong Kong, escalating tensions between the two sides.