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U.S. condemns arrest of 47 Hong Kong pro-democracy activists charged with subversion conspiracy

Hong Kong Democratic Party Founder Martin Lee Appears At Court Over Involvement in Hong Kong Protests
Martin Lee, founder of the Hong Kong Democratic Party, center, sits in a vehicle as he leaves the West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts following a hearing in Hong Kong, China, March 1, 2021. Paul Yeung/Bloomberg via Getty

Hong Kong — Hong Kong police on Monday brought 47 pro-democracy activists to court on charges of conspiracy to commit subversion under the national security law imposed on the city by Beijing last year. The cases represent the largest mass charge against the semi-autonomous Chinese territory's opposition camp since the law came into effect last June.

Supporters gathered outside the courthouse, displaying slogans in favor of the 2019 pro-democracy protests advocating greater local autonomy.
 
China has cracked down hard on such calls, demanding changes to the legal and educational systems to inculcate loyalty to the ruling Communist Party. 

Pro-democracy activists arrested in Hong Kong... 02:00

The former lawmakers and democracy advocates had been previously arrested in a sweeping police operation in January but were released, only to be detained again on Sunday.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the arrest and charging of the democracy advocates in a tweet and called for their immediate release. 

"Political participation and freedom of expression should not be crimes," the top U.S. diplomat said. "The U.S. stands with the people of Hong Kong."

Those arrested allegedly violated the national security law for participating in unofficial election primaries for Hong Kong's legislature last year.
 
The pro-democracy camp had held the primaries to determine the best candidates to field to win a majority in the legislature and had plans to vote down major bills that would eventually force Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to resign.
 
In January, 55 activists and former lawmakers were arrested for their roles in the primaries. Authorities said that the activists' participation was part of a plan to paralyze the city's legislature and subvert state power.

HONG KONG-CHINA-POLITICS
Pro-democracy supporters gesture outside the West Kowloon court in Hong Kong on March 1, 2021, ahead of court appearances by dozens of dissidents charged with subversion in the largest use yet of Beijing's sweeping new national security law. PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty

Among those arrested on Sunday was former lawmaker Eddie Chu. A post on his official Twitter account confirmed that he was being charged for conspiracy to commit subversion and that he was denied bail. 

"Thank you to the people of Hong Kong for giving me the opportunity to contribute to society in the past 15 years," Chu said in a post on his Facebook page.
 
Another candidate in the primaries, Winnie Yu, was also charged and will appear in court on Monday, according to a post on her official Facebook page.
 
American lawyer John Clancey, a member of the now-defunct political rights group "Power for Democracy" who was arrested in January for his involvement in the primary, was not among those detained on Sunday.

Hong Kong Crackdown
American human rights lawyer John Clancey, center, is arrested by police in Hong Kong, January 6, 2021.  AP

"I will give full support to those who have been charged and will be facing trial, because from my perspective, they have done nothing wrong," Clancey told reporters.  
 
The security law criminalizes acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers to intervene in Hong Kong's affairs. Serious offenders could face a maximum punishment of life imprisonment. Nearly 100 people have been arrested since the law was implemented.

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