Foreign governments have criticized the arrest of 15 democracy activists in Hong Kong during a police sweep for organizing and participating in anti-government protests last year.
Saturday’s arrests have been the city’s biggest crackdown on the city’s pro-democracy movement since mass protests began last year.
The International Bar Association has said that the authorities must not encroach on human rights and that the legal system must guard against any abuse of power when the world is concerned about the coronavirus pandemic.
“The United States condemns the arrest of democracy advocates in Hong Kong,” said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“Beijing and its representatives in Hong Kong continue to take measures that are inconsistent with the commitments made in the Sino-British Joint Declaration which include transparency, the rule of law and ensure that Hong Kong will continue to” enjoy high degree of autonomy, “” he said.
Arrested supporters of the democracy movement included Democratic Party founder and lawyer Martin Lee, 81, millionaire publishing mogul Jimmy Lai, 71, and former lawmaker and lawyer Margaret Ng, 72.
Police said those arrested were between 24 and 81 years old and had been arrested for organizing and participating in “illegal rallies” on August 18 and October 1 and 20 of last year.
Large and often violent demonstrations erupted in the former British colony these days.
They were all scheduled to appear in court on May 18. Police said further arrests were possible.
Some of those arrested were released on bail Saturday evening.
In Britain, a representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the government expected all arrests and legal proceedings to be “carried out in a fair and transparent manner”.
Trust and dialogue
The foreign ministry also said that the right to peaceful protest was “fundamental to the Hong Kong way of life” and that the authorities should avoid “actions that ignite tensions”.
“The authorities should focus on restoring confidence through a process of meaningful political dialogue,” said the foreign ministry.
The Hong Kong government has defended the arrests, which, according to the city security office, were carried out according to law.
“In Hong Kong, everyone is equal before the law … No one has special privileges,” said a spokesperson for the office.
The International Bar Association has condemned the arrests of Lee and Ng, who have been active human rights and rule of law activists during their careers.
It was essential that justice be applied transparently in Hong Kong, especially when the world is plagued by the coronavirus pandemic, the report said.
“It is essential that the authorities do not use their powers to encroach on basic human rights, and it is vital that the legal systems continue to protect citizens from any abuse of power that might otherwise remain invisible during the COVID-19 crisis in which the international community is submerged, “he said in a statement sent to Reuters.
In a special report released on Tuesday, three of Hong Kong’s top judges told Reuters that the independence of the city’s justice system was under attack by the leadership of the Communist Party in Beijing. The judiciary, they said, is fighting for its survival.
Hong Kong returned to Beijing in 1997 according to a “one country, two systems” formula which guarantees it broad freedoms that are not found in mainland China and a high degree of autonomy.