Most of 55 arrested HK activists and politicians released on bail

Police say none charged although they were hauled up for subverting the government

Hong Kong Democratic Party members (from left) Andrew Wan, Lam Cheuk-ting, Lo Kin-hei and Helena Wong at a conference they called yesterday after being released on bail following their arrests under the city's national security law. They were among 5
Hong Kong Democratic Party members (from left) Andrew Wan, Lam Cheuk-ting, Lo Kin-hei and Helena Wong at a conference they called yesterday after being released on bail following their arrests under the city's national security law. They were among 55 politicians and activists held.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Charges have not been levied against dozens of people arrested in Hong Kong two days ago, with most of them granted bail after an overnight detention, the city's police force yesterday said.

Police said that so far, none of the 55 politicians and activists arrested in a national security sweep on Wednesday have been charged, despite being told they had been hauled up for subverting the government.

Only three were denied bail. They are former Demosisto leader Joshua Wong, vice-chairman of localist group People Power Tam Tak Chi, and former Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi Wai.

Wong is serving time for organising and inciting people to join the siege of Wan Chai police headquarters during the 2019 unrest while Tam, who faces sedition charges, is in prison awaiting trial in May.

Wu is still in remand, with the court yesterday revoking bail granted to him in an earlier case after finding that he had failed to surrender his British National Overseas passport.

He was previously ordered by the court to surrender his travel documents as part of bail terms set in another case in which he is accused of inciting others to take part in a July 1 rally last year.

Local media reported that the other people arrested, released on bail set at between HK$30,000 and HK$50,000 (S$5,100 and S$8,500), are to report to the police early next month. Their passports have been impounded.

Wednesday's dawn raids led to 53 democracy activists - including Benny Tai, a convicted leader of the 2014 Occupy Central movement, former lawmakers Au Nok Hin, Helena Wong, Kwok Ka Ki and Jeremy Tam, district councillors Lester Shum and Jimmy Sham, and Hong Kong-based American lawyer John Clancey - being arrested. It was the biggest such crackdown since China imposed a security law on the city last year.

Officials said the group planned to overthrow the government by organising or participating in a primary election last July.

The primary election held by the pan-democrats saw some 600,000 residents turning up to vote for their choice of representatives in Parliament or the Legislative Council (LegCo).

An election for the 70 LegCo seats was supposed to be held last September but Chief Executive Carrie Lam postponed it because of the Covid-19 outbreak. The election is now due in September.

Mrs Lam had previously warned that the primary election could be breaching the security law that was enacted for Hong Kong by Beijing in late June last year.

The Democratic Party, which has six former lawmakers arrested in the police operation, yesterday called a conference at which members including Lam Cheuk-ting and party chief Lo Kin-hei denounced the mass arrests as "obvious political suppression".

Mr Lam, who called the arrests "a political decision", said officers who held him could not provide evidence such as the dates of the videos that showed his participation in last year's primary election.

"I'm quite sure they may charge some of us... whether they have evidence or not. They want to create a chilling effect. They want us to bow to the regime, say yes to anything regarding the Carrie Lam administration," he said.

On Wednesday, Secretary for Security John Lee and senior superintendent Steve Li of the police force's national security department said the opposition's plan was to paralyse and overthrow the government, thus breaching Article 22 of the security law, which covers attempts to subvert state power.

They made the points, which have been echoed by some pro-Beijing lawmakers, that the unofficial primary election was part of the opposition camp's 35+ strategy and 10-step mutual disruption plan.

The move, mooted by Mr Tai, seeks to help the opposition bloc win at least 35 seats in LegCo to enable them to block government budget and mount pressure for democratic reforms.

Article 52 of the Basic Law, or the city's mini Constitution, says the chief executive must resign if he or she repeatedly fails to get a budget approved by the legislature.

This week's mass arrests have drawn criticism from the international community, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatening sanctions and the European Union calling for the release of those detained.

But Beijing has defended the Hong Kong police's move, urging critics to immediately stop interfering in China's internal affairs.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2021, with the headline 'Most of 55 arrested HK activists and politicians released on bail'. Subscribe