Hong Kong police arrested three pro-democracy leaders within hours of each other on Thursday night and Friday morning, in a move activists believe is designed to threaten protesters ahead of another weekend of protest marches.
Democracy activists Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow, who helped lead the 2014 Umbrella Movement protests, were arrested on Friday morning, hours after police had detained Andy Chan, the head of a now-banned pro-independence party.
Wong was arrested at 7.30 a.m. local time (7.30 p.m. ET Thursday) while he was walking to his local subway station when “he was forcefully pushed into a private minivan on the street in broad daylight,” according to the Twitter account of youth-led activist group Demosisto, of which Wong is secretary-general.
Chow, who is also a leading member of Demosisto, was arrested two hours later and sent to the Wan Chai police headquarters, where Wong was also being held.
Chan, who was arrested on suspicion of rioting and assaulting a police officer, was detained at Hong Kong International Airport while on his way to Japan, according to Hong Kong Free Press.
Police said Chow and Wong were arrested on suspicion of “inciting others to participate in an unauthorized assembly” as well as “knowingly participating in an unauthorized assembly” during protests outside of police headquarters on June 21.
Wong has also been accused of organizing an unlawful assembly. “Both have been detained for investigation,” the police said. Wong was released from prison in June, as the latest protests kicked off, after serving a two-month sentence for his role in the 2014 uprising.
Wong and Chow were both granted bail just before 5 p.m. local time on Friday evening. "We will continue our fight no matter how they arrest and prosecute us,” Wong told reporters after his release.
Hong Kong is bracing for another day of protests on Saturday. Police denied the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) permission to hold an official march through the city, but protesters have voiced their intention to hold protests anyway, despite threats from police that they will be arrested.
“Our first principle is always to protect all the participants and make sure that no one bears legal consequences because of participating in the protest that we organized,” CHRF vice convener Bonnie Leung said in a statement after calling off the march.
Saturday’s rally marks the 13th straight week of protests, which were sparked by an extradition bill that would have allowed suspects to be tried in China.
Beijing has tried to appear to maintain a hands-off approach to dealing with the crisis. But a Reuters report Friday reveals that Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam ran her plans for dealing with the protests by the Chinese government earlier this summer.
Saturday’ will mark the fifth anniversary of the start of the 2014 Umbrella Movement, a protest sparked by China’s proposal for direct elections in Hong Kong using only candidates pre-screened by Beijing.
Prominent pro-democracy politician Emily Lau says that Friday’s arrests are designed to send a direct message to those still planning to march on Saturday.
“I think the arrests are aimed at sending a message to young protesters who want to stage violent protests tomorrow,” Lau told VICE News. “They also want to quell the unrest before the October 1 celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Founding of the People's Republic of China. President Xi Jinping does not want trouble in Hong Kong to mar the big show in Beijing on that day.”
Others believe the arrests are just the beginning of Hong Kong’s crackdown ahead of the Oct. 1 event.
“I see further arrests and the invocation of the Emergency Regulations Ordinance to give the Hong Kong government sweeping and wide-ranging power to arrest and detain activists leading the protests in the coming weeks,” Steve Tsang, director of London’s SOAS China Institute, told VICE News.
But the arrests are unlikely to have the desired effect, activists say.
“Beijing and the Hong Kong government are rigid and miscalculating here,” Badiucao, a Chinese political cartoonist, artist and rights activist who lives in Australia, told VICE News. “It does not understand what people really want and how people really organizing themselves.”
Cover: Pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong, left, and Agnes Chow, foreground, are escorted in a police van at a district court in Hong Kong, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019. Hong Kong police arrested well-known activist Wong and Chow, another core member of a pro-democracy group, Friday, and authorities denied permission for a major march in what appears to a harder line on this summer's protests. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)