Hong Kong authorities on Friday charged pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung with organizing an illegal protest as they tighten a clampdown on unrest in the city.
Police arrested several other activists and blocked plans for a mass demonstration on Saturday, in a show of force a day before the fifth anniversary of China’s decision on universal suffrage in the former British colony.
Wong, who led pro-democracy demonstrations five years ago that foreshadowed the latest turbulence, is the most prominent activist to be arrested since protests escalated in mid-June over fears China is exerting greater control over the city.
Wong and fellow Demosistō leader Agnes Chow Ting were charged with unlawfully organizing a public meeting outside police headquarters on June 21. They were released on bail and the case was adjourned until Nov. 8.
The two were given curfews between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. and banned from entering the Admiralty area, RTHK reported.
Ivan Lam Long-yin, also of Demosistō, appeared on the charge sheet, although he was not in court and was believed to have left Hong Kong on Aug. 28, the public broadcaster said.
The bespectacled Wong, who was 17 when he became the face of the student-led Umbrella Movement, has not been a prominent figure in current protests, which have no identifiable leaders.
He was released from jail in June after serving a five-week term for contempt of court.
Thousands of demonstrators blockaded police headquarters on June 21 protesting a now-suspended extradition bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial in Communist Party-controlled courts.
Andy Chan Ho-tin a founder of the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party that was banned last September, was arrested at the international airport on Thursday on suspicion of participating in riots and attacking police, police said.
Amnesty International Hong Kong deplored the arrests as “an outrageous assault on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly” and called for their release.
“This past week, we have seen scare tactics straight out of Beijing’s playbook: pro-democracy protest organizers attacked by thugs, prominent activists arrested after being snatched from their homes and streets, and a major rally planned for Saturday banned,” Tam Man-kei, director of the human rights group, said in a statement.
“The authorities must end this concerted attack on the freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly. It is vital that the authorities send a clear message that people in Hong Kong can still enjoy these rights irrespective of their political beliefs.”
Demosistō said the arrests were an attempt to scapegoat individuals in a movement that has built momentum without public figureheads.
“The arrests were apparently a political operation,” Demosisto said on its Facebook page. “It will only make the government misjudge the public, leading to a deadly situation that is more difficult to resolve.”
The Civil Human Rights Front, the organizer of previous protests, canceled a mass demonstration planned for Saturday after the police refused permission and its appeal against the ban was overturned.
Nearly 900 people have been arrested since the demonstrations began with frequent clashes between protesters and police, who have at times fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse activists.
With protesters and authorities locked in impasse, as Hong Kong faces its first recession in a decade, speculation has grown that the government may impose emergency law, giving it extra powers over detentions, censorship and curfews.
The government would consider using “all laws” to prevent violence, Chief Executive Carrie Cheng Yuet-ngor, who has become a lightning rod for protesters’ anger, said this week.
Hong Kong was a long way from having to make use of emergency powers, a senior official of the National People’s Congress told Reuters on Friday. With Reuters
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