HONG KONG (AP) – Outspoken Hong Kong publisher Jimmy Lai and two prominent opposition politicians were charged on Friday with illegal assembly over a pro-democracy march last year as the territory’s Beijing-backed government appeared to move to settle scores over the protests.
The months of demonstrations calling for reforms in Hong Kong crippled its economy and put its leaders and police force under unprecedented pressure.
Lai was picked up from his home by police officers early on Friday, while former pro-democracy legislator Yeung Sum and former legislator and vice chairman of the Labour Party, Lee Cheuk-yan, were also arrested.
“Well, the Hong Kong situation is getting tense here, but we have to go on, we have to go on,” Lai told reporters after speaking with officers. The three left the police station after being charged and are to appear in court on May 5. They could face up to five years in prison along with fines.
Senior police officer Wong Tung-kwong said all three were charged with illegal assembly in connection with the August 31 march, which was timed to mark the fifth anniversary of a decision by China against fully democratic elections in Hong Kong.
Organisers called off the march after police banned it, but hundreds of thousands of people defied the order and filled the streets in several areas of the Asian financial hub.
Protesters threw gasoline bombs at government headquarters and set fires in the streets, while police stormed a subway car and hit passengers with batons and pepper spray in some of the most violent scenes up to that point in the protest movement.
Hong Kong broadcaster TVB showed police on the platform of Prince Edward subway station swinging batons at passengers who backed into one end of a train car behind umbrellas.
The video also showed pepper spray being shot through an open door at a group seated on the floor while one man holds up his hands.
Police arrested thousands during the protest movement that began in June but fizzled out toward the end of the year amid harsher tactics by authorities. Prison sentences have been threatened against many on charges including rioting and possessing offensive weapons.