China’s puppet government in Hong Kong charged 47 opposition activists with violating the city’s national security legislation on Sunday, in the biggest application of the law since it was imposed by Beijing last year.
Those charged with “conspiracy to commit subversion” were among 53 people, who were arrested last month for organizing, planning and participating in a primary election for the city’s democratic opposition last July.
That event was designed to identify the strongest pro-democracy candidates to field in legislative council elections planned for last September, when the opposition camp hoped to win an historic majority.
However, those elections were eventually postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, but not before multiple democracy candidates were disqualified and warnings made that those participating in the primary could be in breach of the then weeks-old security law.
The 39 men and eight women charged Sunday, aged between 23 and 64.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and others had previously promised the national security law would be limited in effect, and only target a small number of fringe activists.
The law criminalizes secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign powers, and cases under the legislation can be handled by a dedicated branch of the Hong Kong police and national security courts.
On Monday hundreds of people gathered outside the courthouse in the city’s West Kowloon district to protest, carrying banners and chanting slogans that became popular during the 2019 political unrest but now are deemed “subversive” under the new national security law.
The charges come less than a week after the Hong Kong government moved to introduce new requirements for public officials, including that they swear loyalty oaths and embrace Beijing’s rule over the city.
Anyone who fails to take the oath would be immediately disqualified from office and banned from running in elections for the next five years.
The charges are of “great concern to [the] EU,” the European Union Office to Hong Kong and Macau said Sunday.
“Charges against 47 pro-democrat is of great concern to #EU. These make clear that legitimate political pluralism will no longer be tolerated in #HongKong. We urge authorities to abide by their commitments to fundamental #freedoms and the rule of law, as per the #BL and #ICCPR,” the EU office tweeted.