Hong Kong police have launched a wave of arrests against prominent democracy activists and protesters, marking a new phase in government efforts to stop mass protests that have plunged the city into months of political crisis.
On Friday, police detained pro-democracy lawmakers and activists, including Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow, student leaders of pro-democracy protests in 2014. The pair were charged with unlawful assembly and released on bail. Police said 28 people were arrested.
Critics say the mass arrests on the eve of a big rally planned for Saturday are aimed at dissuading protesters who have come out on to the streets for the last 12 weekends, demanding the withdrawal of a controversial extradition bill among other demands.
Human rights groups are calling for an investigation into the tactics used by Hong Kong police following another weekend of violent protests.
Pro-democracy advocate Agnes Chow, who was arrested before the weekend's demonstrations, has told Sky News that she was intimidated and forced to take off her clothes during her interrogation.
A young pro-democracy activist who was barred last year from running for a Legislative Council by-election has won a legal challenge against the decision, but said she remains doubtful if her case would set a precedent and benefit other anti-establishment candidates in future elections.
Speaking to media outside the court on Monday, Agnes Chow Ting, 22, a founding member of the political party Demosistō, described her victory as partial because, she said, she won the election petition only “because of procedural justice”.
Chow pointed out that the judgment reaffirmed that returning officers have the power to “decide a candidate’s political stance and to disqualify their basic right of getting involved in elections.”
Despite getting a favorable ruling this time, Chow said she believes it would be difficult for anyone who advocates independence or self-determination to join future elections.
On Tuesday, Chow added that Demosistō members may still be disqualified in future elections, since the judgment reaffirms the power of the returning officer to decide a candidate’s political stance.
Asked if she would run again, either for the District Council elections scheduled for Nov. 24 or for the Legco elections next year, Chow said she has not made any decision yet but stressed it is Demosistō ‘s belief that advocating self-determination is Hongkongers’ basic right.
Pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Nathan Law and Agnes Chow said in the morning today that they have left the Demosisto group they co-founded. The announcement came just hours after Beijing passed new national security legislation for Hong Kong, RTHK reports.
"I announce my resignation as secretary general of Demosisto, and will withdraw from Demosisto," Wong said in a post on Facebook.
“The will of Hong Kong will not be frozen by the national security law or any evil law.”
He said the protests last year have awakened many Hong Kong people, from cleaners to office workers, who stand shoulder to shoulder.
"I believe that there are still many eyes around the world on Hong Kong at the moment," he said.
"I will continue to stay in my home, Hong Kong, until they silence me," he wrote, adding "may glory return to Hong Kong, stay safe everyone."
Meanwhile, Law said that under the new security legislation Hong Kong people will be guilty of having the "wrong thoughts."
“Political figures will be more at risk and it is hard to predict their own safety," he said on Facebook.
Law said that great changes are coming but that “the struggle of Hong Kong people will not stop, and will continue with a more determined defiance.”
Law also said he "will continue to take part in pro-democracy movements in my personal capacity in the future."
"As one of the founding members, this was a very difficult decision, and I will no longer be involved with international outreach work", Chow wrote on her social media account.
Chow also said she will no longer be able to take part in liaising work with other countries in the future after withdrawing from Demosisto.
Earlier this week, Wong said he believed he would be a "prime target" for the new law.
"I will probably be the prime target of the new law. But what makes me fear is not my potential imprisonment, but the gloomy fact that the new law will be a threat over the city’s future and not just my personal life,” Wong told the Reuters News Agency.
Wong recently announced his intention to stand in primaries organised by the pro-democracy camp for September's Legco elections. His post didn't mention whether he still hopes to run in the polls.- Additional reporting The Standard.