Hong Kong police charged 47 activists with subversion on Sunday in the largest use yet of the new national security law, which was adopted in July 2020.
Last month 55 opposition campaigners were arrested in a series of raids. Eight out of the 55 earlier arrested have not yet been charged.
On Sunday, police confirmed 47 of them had been charged with one count each of “conspiracy to commit subversion” – one of the new national security crimes – and would appear in court on Monday morning.
Hong Kong’s national security law, formulated by the National People’s Congress, criminalises acts deemed to be subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.
The charged activists are a broad cross-section of Hong Kong’s opposition, from veteran former opposition lawmakers to academics, lawyers, social workers and a host of youth activists.
The alleged offence of those arrested for subversion was to organise an unofficial primary last summer to choose candidates for the city’s legislature, in hopes that the opposition bloc might take a majority for the first time.
Many of those candidates were ultimately disqualified from standing, and authorities scrapped the election because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Chinese and Hong Kong officials described the primary as an attempt to “overthrow” and “paralyse” the city’s government and therefore a threat to national security.
The European Union has issued a statement stressing that the charges laid against the 47 candidates who took part in primary elections last July are of “great concern”. The EU Office to Hong Kong and Macau stated that the “nature of these charges makes clear that legitimate political pluralism will no longer be tolerated in Hong Kong” and called on authorities to released those arrested immediately.