HONG KONG (AFP) – Prominent democracy activists were arrested yesterday in a dragnet across Hong Kong.
The sweep comes after a major rally planned by a civil rights group today was banned by police on security grounds.
Hong Kong has been locked in three months of political crisis, with increasingly violent clashes between police and protesters.
Protesters had planned yet another mass rally today – the fifth anniversary of Beijing’s rejection of a call for universal suffrage in the semi-autonomous city.
It was a pivotal moment, sparking the 79-day Umbrella Movement in 2014, which seeded the ground for today’s protests.
But organisers yesterday afternoon said they would not march, complying with the police banning order.
Earlier, two of the Umbrella Movement’s leaders, Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow – both still well-regarded among the city’s youth – were arrested in dawn swoops both accused of “inciting others to take part in unauthorised assembly” among other charges.
The pair were charged in court yesterday afternoon. The main charge carries up to five years in jail.
Hours before another vocal independence campaigner Andy Chan was detained at Hong Kong’s airport.
The arrests are a sign of the “spread of ‘white terror’ towards Hong Kong protesters”, said Issac Cheng of Demosisto party, co-founded by Wong.
More than 850 people have been arrested in connection with protests since June.
But that has failed to snuff out the leaderless protest movement.
Chan’s small independence party was outlawed last year on the grounds it posed a national security threat.
A fourth pro-democracy campaigner, Rick Hui a councillor for the working-class Sha Tin district, was also detained by police yesterday, according to a post on his Facebook page, without detailing why.
Former student leader Althea Suen was also arrested for entering Parliament building during a July break-in by protesters.
Amnesty International decried the “the ludicrous dawn swoops”, condemning the arrest of Wong and Chow as an “outrageous assault on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly” and as “scare tactics straight out of Beijing’s playbook”.