The arrests, which included several former lawmakers, are tied to an anti-government protest on July 1, the anniversary of Britain’s handover of the colony to Chinese rule.

In this file photo, people react after the sentencing of activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam at West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts in Hong Kong. December 2, 2020.
In this file photo, people react after the sentencing of activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam at West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts in Hong Kong. December 2, 2020. (Reuters)

Hong Kong police have arrested eight more activists over an anti-government protest in July, the latest move by authorities in a crackdown on opposition forces in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.

The police on Tuesday did not identify the people, saying only that they were aged between 24 and 64. Local media said former anti-China lawmaker and veteran activist Leung Kwok-hung, known as Long Hair, was among those arrested.

The arrests, which included several former lawmakers, are tied to a July 1 demonstration in which thousands defied a protest ban and rallied on the streets against a national security law imposed on the city by Beijing the day before.

Former anti- Beijing lawmakers Wu Chi-wai and Eddie Chu were arrested at their homes on charges related to organising and participating in the protest, according to Facebook posts on their respective pages.

The move comes a day after eight people aged between 16 and 34 were arrested, including three on suspicion of violating a sweeping national security law, over a brief demonstration at a university campus last month.

July 1 protest

Hong Kong police said in a statement that eight men aged between 24 and 64 had been arrested for inciting, organising and taking part in an unauthorised assembly.

Traditionally, a protest march is held every year on July 1 — the day Hong Kong was handed from British to Chinese control in 1997 — but this year’s protest was banned with authorities citing the health risks from the pandemic.

Hong Kong police fired water cannon and tear gas to disperse protesters on July 1, as thousands demonstrated despite the ban.

More than 370 were arrested in the rally that came after Beijing imposed security legislation on its freest city, saying it was vital to plug gaping holes in national security defences exposed by months of sometimes violent anti-government protests that rocked the city over the last year. At least 10 were arrested under the security law.

The law punishes what Beijing broadly defines as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in jail.

Hong Kong and Beijing have increasingly clamped down on dissent in the city since the introduction of the national security law, which was aimed at curbing months of political unrest and protests against the government.

The crackdown has led to accusations that Beijing is violating the autonomy it promised Hong Kong would have following the 1997 handover. It also has triggered warnings the ruling Communist Party is damaging Hong Kong’s appeal as a global business center and one of Asia’s most dynamic cities.

In August, the US imposed sanctions on 11 officials from mainland China and Hong Kong, including Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, for undermining the city’s autonomy. 

On Monday, the United States announced further sanctions on 14 other officials to punish Beijing for imposing the law on Hong Kong, escalating tensions between the two sides. 

Hong Kong's administration insists the law has not impinged on the rights to freedom of speech and assembly guaranteed to the territory when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

But activists have spoken of a chilling effect over the city's opposition, as certain opinions and actions became illegal almost overnight.

Last week leading dissident Joshua Wong and two other prominent activists were jailed over a 2019 rally outside police headquarters.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies