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Dozens of Hong Kong pro-democracy leaders arrested

Protesters burn a sign celebrating the 70th anniversary of China during an anti-government rally in Hong Kong on October 1, 2019. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI
Protesters burn a sign celebrating the 70th anniversary of China during an anti-government rally in Hong Kong on October 1, 2019. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 5 (UPI) -- Authorities in Hong Kong have arrested dozens of pro-democracy politicians and opposition leaders in an early morning sweep Wednesday on accusations of subverting a draconian national security law Beijing imposed on the former British colony in the summer, according to posts on social media.

Lo Kin-hei, chairman of the Hong Kong Democratic Party, said upwards of 50 people who participated in last year's pro-democracy primary in Hong Kong have been arrested.

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"I lost count already," he said via Twitter. "Very likely over 40 or even 50."

The Democratic Party confirmed former lawmakers James To, Andrew Wan, Lam Cheuk Ting, Wu Chi Wai, Tiffany Yuen and Gary Fan were among those arrested.

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Kwok Ka Ki, one of four lawmakers dismissed in November, announced his arrest on Twitter.

"Being arrested for sedition for taking part in democracy," he said.

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The majority of those arrested participated in primaries for September's Legislative Council election that democratic politicians held in an effort to whittle candidates down to ensure they could elect at least 35 people to secure a majority in the Legislative Council.

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Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam postponed the election a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic after 12 pan-democratic politicians, including prominent activist Joshua Wong, were disqualified from running.

The Hong Kong government said the disqualification was because the politicians wouldn't uphold the Basic Law, which Beijing had on the last day of June amended with a new national security law that criminalizes acts of secession, sedition, subversion, terrorism and working with foreign agencies to undermine the national security of China.

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Beijing's Hong Kong Liaison Office said the pro-democracy primaries were "illegal."

"With the support of external forces, opposition groups and leaders deliberately planned to hold this so-called primary election, which is a serious provocation to the current electoral system, a serious violation of the fairness and justice of the Legislative Council election and a serious damage to the legitimate rights and interest of other candidates," the liaison office said in a statement.

A post Wednesday on the official Twitter account for Wong, who is serving more than a year in prison for his role protests in 2019, said police raided his house Wednesday morning "for allegedly violating the nationals security law ... as he took part in the primary election last year."

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Maya Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the arrests remove "the remaining veneer of democracy in the city."

"Beijing once again has failed to learn from its mistakes in Hong Kong: that repression generates resistance, and that millions of Hong Kong people will persist in their struggle for their right to vote and run for office in a democratically elected government," she said in a statement.

Hong Kong Watch said, "Beijing is once again undermining Hong Kong's democracy & breaching its obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration," which returned Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1997.

"The International community must respond with Magnitsky sanctions and other punitive measures demonstrating that an attack on democracy has consequences," it said in a statement.

The arrests are expected to be condemned by Western nations, including the United States, which has imposed punitive measures against the Hong Kong and Chinese governments over their repression of pro-democracy protests in the former British colony.

Antony Blinken, whom President-elect Joe Biden picked to be his secretary of state, described Wednesday's arrests in a tweet as "an assault on those bravely advocating for universal rights."

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"The Biden-Harris administration will stand with the people of Hong Kong and against Beijing's crackdown on democracy," he said.

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., a member of the Senate select committee, condemned the arrests in a statement, saying, "these despicable raids expose the Chinese Communist Party for the cowardly dictators they are."

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