Seven pro-democratic politicians in Hong Kong have been arrested over protests and scuffles that broke out in the city’s legislature earlier this year, according to a police statement.
The seven politicians – four of them sitting legislators – were arrested on Sunday on charges of “contempt” and “interfering” with members of the city’s Legislative Council in early May, police said.
It did not name the politicians but said the seven included six men and one woman.
The police said the action was part of an investigation into what happened at a May 8 meeting in which pro-democracy legislators sought to obstruct the appointment of a pro-Beijing politician to the chair of a key committee that decides which bills come up for debate.
The arrests are the latest in a string of prosecutions launched against critics of China.
Hong Kong’s legislative chamber passes the semi-autonomous territory’s laws but only half of its seats are directly elected and a complex appointment system ensures the city’s pro-Beijing establishment are all but guaranteed a majority.
Scuffles and protests routinely break out, with the pro-democracy minority often resorting to filibustering, chanting and obstruction to try to halt bills they oppose.
The May 8 confrontation occurred when the pro-Beijing camp forcibly installed one of their politicians as the House Committee’s chair, prompting angry scenes and protests in the chamber as legislators from both sides used placards to protest amid boisterous heckling and physical obstruction.
I was arrested at 7am today on charges relating to the House Committee meeting on May 8 and the #LegCo Powers & Privileges Ordinance. I am at the North Point Police Station now. https://t.co/O7mf3CB6vL
— Ray Chan (@ray_slowbeat) November 1, 2020
— Joshua Wong 黃之鋒 😷 (@joshuawongcf) November 1, 2020
Security guards and pro-Beijing legislators eventually dragged most of the pro-democracy politicians from the chamber and the installation of the committee chair went ahead.
One pro-Beijing politician was seen dragging an opponent out by his shirt collar on a live broadcast – an incident that sparked an ongoing private prosecution. But Sunday’s police action singled out the pro-democracy politicians for arrest.
The Democratic Party said on Facebook that its chairman Wu Chi-wai and members Andrew Wan and Helena Wong were among those arrested. The Labour Party’s Fernando Cheung and Steven Kwok were also held.
Former legislators Eddie Chu and Ray Chan were also detained. Chan said on Twitter that he had been arrested at 7am on Sunday.
The arrested politicians could face up to a year in jail if convicted.
The inability of Hong Kong people to elect their leaders and legislators has been at the heart of swelling opposition to Beijing’s rule, including the huge democracy protests that broke out last year.
More than 10,000 people were arrested and the courts are now filled with trials – many of them involving opposition legislators and prominent figures.
In a direct response to the protests, Beijing bypassed the legislature and imposed a sweeping new national security law on Hong Kong in late June.
Beijing says the law has restored stability. Critics say it delivered a hammer blow to the city’s already stuttering freedoms.
The Liaison Office – which represents Beijing’s central government in the city – has warned that future legislature protests constitute one of the new national security crimes, which carries between 10 years to life in jail.
In September, elections for the legislature were postponed for a year; authorities blamed the coronavirus for the delay.