Hong Kong media say police have arrested a dozen pro-democracy advocates over "unlawful" protests held in August and October last year. Officers also arrested media tycoon Jimmy Lai, founder of Apple Daily.
Police have arrested at least 12 veterans of Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement in the special Chinese territory and taken them to diverse precincts, according to media reports on Saturday.
Prominent youth campaigner Joshua Wong posted a tweet with a photo montage, saying former and current legislators were among those arrested.
The South China Morning Post (SCMP), citing legal sources, said those arrested included former lawmakers Martin Lee, Albert Ho, Lee Cheuk-yan, "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung and Au Nok-hin.
Officers also showed up at the home of media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, but the founder of the local newspaper Apple Daily was not home. Lai was later arrested, according to The Associated Press. Police also searched his home under a warrant, added the SCMP.
The Democratic Party's Yeung Sum and the Labour Party's Cyd Ho were also detained, reported the Hong Kong Free Press, citing the territory's League of Social Democrats.
'Timing is too much of a coincidence'
The legal sources cited by South China Morning Post said those arrested were accused of organizing and joining "unlawful" assemblies on August 18, October 1 and October 20 last year.
Those demonstrations — denounced by police last year as "riots" — came during months of protest against a now-axed extradition bill.
That bill, which would have seen Hong Kong residents sent to mainland China to stand trial, prompted seven months of protest increasingly focused on demands for voting rights and calls for an independent inquiry into police conduct.
Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai said the arrests early Saturday morning were intended to silence dissent.
Wu vowed that pan-democrats would resist such clampdowns: "The timing is too much of a coincidence."
Another lawmaker Claudia Mo Man-ching accused the territory's government and police of "playing along with a script written by Beijing."
Democratic Party lawmaker Ted Hui told the German news agency dpa: "It's unimaginable that people like the 81-year-old Martin Lee have been arrested."
"He's a respected leader known for being peaceful and for exerting so much effort in his life for Hong Kong's democracy," he said. "Under coronavirus, the protests stopped, but political persecution doesn't stop. ... Hong Kong has totally fallen to tyranny."
Last Tuesday, Hong Kong's barristers' association called on China to "exercise restraint" in its comments after Beijing's liaison office welcomed an appeal court ruling that had upheld the constitutionality of an Emergency Regulations Ordinance from the colonial era.
During October's protests, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam invoked rarely used emergency powers, enacting a new regulation banning face masks.
Hong Kong returned to Beijing in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" formula that grants it British-style rule of law until 2047.
Beijing has denied interference in the city's affairs. and police have said they exercised restraint amid increasing violence.
ipj/rc (dpa, AP, Reuters)