HONG KONG: Dozens of Hong Kong dissidents were charged with subversion on Sunday in the largest use yet of Beijing’s sweeping new national security law, as authorities seek to tackle the finance hub’s democracy movement.
Police arrested 55 of the city’s best-known pro-democracy campaigners in a series of dawn raids last month.
On Sunday, 47 were charged with one count each of “conspiracy to commit subversion” — one of the new national security crimes — with police saying the group would appear in court on Monday morning.
Democracy supporters described the move as a body blow.
“Every prominent voice of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong now is either jailed, in exile, or charged for subversion of state power,” activist Sophie Mak wrote on Twitter.
The European Union’s office in Hong Kong said the charges were of “great concern”.
“The nature of these charges makes clear that legitimate political pluralism will no longer be tolerated in Hong Kong,” the office added.
Beijing is battling to stamp out dissent in semi-autonomous Hong Kong after swathes of the population hit the streets in 2019 in huge and sometimes violent democracy protests.
The broadly worded security law, imposed on the city last June, criminalises any act deemed to be subversion, secession, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces.
Those charged are routinely denied bail until trial and face up to life in prison if convicted.
The activists charged on Sunday represent a broad cross-section of Hong Kong’s opposition, from veteran former pro-democracy lawmakers to academics, lawyers, social workers and a host of youth activists.
Joshua Wong, one of the city’s most recognisable pro-democracy figures, was among those charged, visited by police inside prison where he is currently serving a sentence for organising protests in 2019.
John Clancey, an American lawyer and long-time Hong Kong resident who was with the initial group arrested, was one of the few not charged on Sunday.
Many struck a defiant tone as they prepared to report to police on Sunday to hear the charges.
“Democracy is never a gift from heaven. It must be earned by many with strong will,” Jimmy Sham, a key organiser of 2019’s huge protests, told reporters outside a police station.
“We can tell the whole world, under the most painful system, Hong Kongers are the light of the city. We will remain strong and fight for what we want,” he added.