Hong Kong authorities expanded their crackdown on the Chinese-controlled territory's opposition with a fresh round of arrests of pro-democracy activists on Thursday.
Police detained up to nine activists for their apparent involvement in an anti-China protest last year, according to social media posts from two political parties, Demosisto and League of Social Democrats , whose members were among those arrested.
The arrests come ahead of an expected visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping on July 1 for the 20th year anniversary of the city's handover from Britain to China.
On Wednesday, police arrested two pro-independence lawmakers who were disqualified in a dispute over their oaths.
The pair, Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching of the Youngspiration party, were charged with unlawful assembly and attempted forcible entry relating to a scuffle in the legislature's chamber last November.
Leung and Yau angered Hong Kong's Beijing-backed government when they used their swearing-in ceremony in October to stage an apparent protest by inserting anti-China insults into their oaths.
Their attempts to enter the legislature during subsequent sessions to take their oaths properly descended into chaos when they were barred from the chamber while awaiting a court ruling, which later disqualified them from office.
The two young activists were part of a new wave of lawmakers advocating greater separation from the mainland. They were newly elected to office last year amid a rising tide of anti-China sentiment in Hong Kong, where fears are rising that Beijing is tightening its grip on the semiautonomous city.
Leung said the charges, which relate to events on Nov. 2, were "ridiculous."
On that day, they scuffled with guards as they barged into the chamber, leaving the council session in disarray.
"We are still lawmakers at that time when we wanted to get into the chamber. Why is it unlawful?" he said.
The two said the charges were politically motivated.
"We are not afraid of this suppression and we will persist in our beliefs," Yau said.
Other cases include:
— Nine people, including university professors, former student leaders and lawmakers, arrested last month on public nuisance charges for their involvement in the 79-day "Umbrella Movement" protests over electoral curbs;
— Legal challenges against four pro-democracy lawmakers who the government says also took their oaths improperly;
— A lawmaker charged earlier this month with desecrating the Chinese and Hong Kong flags after he inverted some on the desks of pro-government members during one of the chamber's chaotic sessions last year.
Kelvin Chan, The Associated Press