Police arrest three ex-legislators for disruptions to debate on law punishing disrespect for China’s national anthem.
Police in Hong Kong have arrested three former opposition legislators over incidents in May and June, in which foul-smelling liquid was thrown inside the city’s legislature, an act police said was intended to cause harm.
Pro-democracy activists Ted Hui, Ray Chan and Chu Hoi-dick confirmed the arrests on their Facebook pages on Wednesday.
The arrests came after Hong Kong’s opposition legislators resigned en masse last week in protest against the dismissal of four colleagues in what they see as a further clampdown by Beijing on the city’s political and civic freedoms.
Police said after an in-depth investigation, the three men had been charged with attempting to use harmful substances with the intent to cause harm, psychological injury or irritation to others. They are being detained while the investigation continues.
Live television footage showed legislators Eddie Chu and Ray Chan rushing to the front of the chamber during a June debate over a controversial bill that was designed to criminalise “disrespect” of China’s national anthem. As they grappled with security guards, the reeking fluid was sloshed about. Police and firefighters arrived later.
Chan and Chu later said the liquid they hurled was bio-fertiliser.
Despite their attempts to disrupt the proceedings, the law – which includes jail terms of three years as well as fines of $6,450 (50,000 Hong Kong dollars) – passed the legislature.
In May, Ted Hui dropped a rotten plant in the middle of the meeting, footage showed.
Hui, who is part of the territory’s Democratic Party, said on Wednesday officers came to his home to arrest him after accusing him of disturbing legislature proceedings.
Police also said the Legislative Council President Andrew Leung “felt irritated, disturbed and frustrated” by the incident, the Facebook post from Hui read.
The three legislators already paid fines of $6,707-12,898 (52,000-100,000 Hong Kong dollars) each over the incidents, according to the Hong Kong Free Press newspaper.
Pressure on freedoms
Hong Kong’s opposition members have tried to take a stand against what many in the former British colony see as Beijing’s whittling away of freedoms, despite a promise of a high degree of autonomy under a “one country, two systems” formula that was agreed when it was returned to China in 1997.
China denies curbing rights and freedoms, but authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing have moved swiftly to quash dissent in the wake of last year’s anti-government protests.
There have been a string of arrests in recent months. Earlier this month, seven pro-democracy politicians — including Chu and Chan — were arrested over another chaotic legislative meeting on May 8. In August, Hui was also arrested on charges of rioting over a protest in July.
Al Jazeera’s Sarah Clarke, reporting from Hong Kong, described the arrests as “part of a wider clampdown by Beijing and Hong Kong to try and gag any dissent after last year’s protests”.
She added: “It’s part of a campaign by China to instil loyalty or patriotism to the motherland. We expect further protests in the coming months.”
Chan and Chu had quit the legislature in protest in September after Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam postponed legislative elections by one year, citing the coronavirus pandemic. They said the postponement breached the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution.
The pro-democracy camp, which had hoped to win a majority in the elections, criticised the decision as an attempt by the pro-Beijing government to thwart their efforts to secure a bigger voice in the legislature.
Separately, last week, 15 pro-democracy legislators resigned en masse after Beijing passed a resolution that led to the disqualification of four of its members from the legislature. Hui and another politician, Claudia Mo, left their posts last week, while the remaining legislators are expected to stay on until December 1.
The resignations leave the body with virtually no opposition voice.