Hong Kong police arrested 16 people, including two opposition lawmakers, on Wednesday on charges related to anti-government protests last year.
The arrests of pro-democracy legislators Ted Hui and Lam Cheuk-ting were announced via social media posts.
A post on Hui’s Facebook page said he was arrested on charges of perverting the course of justice, accessing a computer with criminal and dishonest intent, and criminal damage in relation to a protest in July last year. He conveyed a message via his lawyer that he had only been at the scene to mediate.
Posts on Lam's Twitter account said he had been arrested on charges of conspiring with others to damage property and obstructing justice during the same protest on July 6, 2019. The tweets said he was also accused of rioting on July 21, 2019.
That was the day a group of more than 100 men clad in white attacked protesters and passengers with steel rods and rattan canes in a subway station. Lam, who was present, was injured during the attack and hospitalized.
Protesters and many from the opposition camp have accused the police of colluding with the attackers, since they arrived late at the scene and did not make arrests that night.
Police said at a news conference on Wednesday that the July 21 incident was not an “indiscriminate attack” by the men in white, and accused media of one-sided coverage. Senior superintendent of police Chan Tin-chu denied accusations of collusion and said Lam contributed to the escalating events by live-streaming the incident.
The pro-democracy camp criticized the statements by police and accused them of trying to change the narrative of what actually happened.
“(They’re saying that) if we think you are a criminal, we’ll arrest you and we don’t need any particularly good reason at all ... we can say what we want to say because we are the law,” pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo said at another news conference.
The chairman of the Democratic Party in Hong Kong, Wu Chi-wai, called the arrests of Lam and Hui “ridiculous" and said it was revenge for lawsuits the two had brought against the police force. Lawmaker James To said the arrests amounted to political persecution.
The two were arrested along with 14 others in relation to protests last year, according to a police official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media before an official statement was released.
The semi-autonomous Chinese city experienced months of protests after the government announced plans to pass an extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent to the mainland for trial. Anger over the bill, seen as an infringement on the former British colony's freedoms, sparked huge demonstrations that at times descended into violence between police and protesters, and rallies continued even after the bill was shelved.
China later passed a sweeping national security law which has been viewed as an attack on the “one country, two systems” framework under which the city has been governed since its return to China in 1997.
Since the start of the protests in June 2019, Hong Kong police have made more than 9,000 arrests.
Prominent pro-democracy figures who have been arrested include activists Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow, as well as media tycoon Jimmy Lai, an outspoken advocate for democracy.
Zen Soo, The Associated Press