Hong Kong opposition activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung was arrested on Thursday for allegedly taking part in an illegal assembly during the city’s social unrest last year, a move he said was carried out to stoke fear ahead of a planned march next week.
Veteran social activist Koo Sze-yiu was also detained in connection with the protest on October 5 last year and taken to Cheung Sha Wan Police Station before being released.
Wong said police had also accused him of breaching the anti-mask law, which banned people from covering their faces during protests.
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“Joshua is arrested when reporting to Central Police Station at about 1pm,” his Twitter account said. “The arrest is related to participating in an unauthorised assembly on October 5 last year.”
Wong also said he was told he had “violated the draconian anti-mask law” as well.
Police later confirmed the arrest of two men, aged 23 and 74, and said they were accused of “knowingly taking part in an unauthorised assembly”, while the 23-year-old was also accused of having breached the Prohibition on Face Covering Regulation.
The force said October’s protest had not been an authorised event under the Public Order Ordinance and that both men were expected to appear at Eastern Court on September 30.
Later, speaking outside the police station after his release, Wong said he believed the timing of his arrest and prosecution was politically motivated.
“The government wants to produce a chilling effect on Hong Kong people to frighten people away from the October 1 march,” Wong said, referring to a rally planned for National Day.
“But I can declare that I will continue to resist and we should also let the world know Hong Kong people will not easily surrender. They can’t censor our commitment to fight for freedom. The chilling effect will not work and is not the way out and they cannot force us to surrender.”
He said it was the third case in which he had been prosecuted since June last year, when demonstrations triggered by the now-abandoned extradition bill broke out in the city. The protests later evolved into a wider anti-government movement.
In one case, Wong was prosecuted for participating in an illegal assembly this year – the annual June 4 candlelight vigil to mark the Tiananmen Square crackdown, which police banned under social-distancing rules to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
He was also ordered to stay in the city after being charged with organising, inciting and taking part in an illegal assembly when police headquarters in Wan Chai were besieged on June 21 last year.
Wong had been reporting to the police station twice a week while on bail.
“The government may want to make use of this trick to try to restrict us from leaving the city,” he said on Thursday.
The government’s mask ban took effect on October 5 last year, after it invoked the Emergency Regulations Ordinance to restore social order after months of increasingly violent protests.
But the move, which banned face coverings at not just illegal assemblies but also lawful ones, sparked fears over declining civil liberties, prompting judicial challenges.
In a ruling last November, the High Court declared the anti-mask law unconstitutional. The decision forced police to suspend enforcement of the regulation for months.
Then, in April this year, the Court of Appeal ruled that while it was constitutional for the government to ban the wearing of masks at unauthorised or illegal assemblies, the same was not true for legal protests. Language in the ban granting police the authority to physically remove masks was also unconstitutional, it added.
Both the government and a group of opposition activists sought to bring the case to the Court of Final Appeal. In July, the Court of Appeal granted both sides permission to challenge its April judgment in the top court.
Opposition politicians, rights groups and the European Union weighed in on Thursday’s arrests.
Alan Leong Kah-kit, chairman of the Civic Party, said: “It’s so ridiculous for the government to arrest people over participating in an anti-mask law rally when everyone now in Hong Kong has to wear masks in public places [under coronavirus measures].”
Amnesty International Hong Kong’s programme manager Lam Cho-ming said the arrests “highlighted the authorities’ escalating crackdown on critical voices”.
The EU’s spokeswoman on foreign Affairs, Nabila Massrali, said arrests of Hong Kong activists since the summer “call into question China’s will to uphold its international commitments, undermine trust and impact EU-China relations”.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Hong Kong opposition activist Joshua Wong loses legal bid to overturn district council elections ban
- Hong Kong elections: decision to bar Joshua Wong from District Council race an ‘insult’ and violation of his rights, lawyer says in High Court challenge