Hong Kong protest leaders arrested before weekend rallies

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5:46 a.m. ET, August 30, 2019

Here's your 5.45pm round up

Hong Kong police have arrested seven pro-democracy activists in the past 24 hours, in a sweeping round up of some of the city's protest figureheads. The arrested include:

Rick Hui, pro-democracy politician from the Sha Tin District Council

Agnes Chow, former Legislative Council candidate of pro-democracy group Demosisto

Joshua Wong, 2014 Umbrella Revolution leader and Demosisto leader

Andy Chan, founder of the outlawed pro-independence Hong Kong National Party

The other three arrestees have not been named by officials.

According to police, two were women arrested on suspicion of breaking into Hong Kong's Legislative Council on July 1, and the third is a 59-year-old man suspected of rioting at Yuen Long station on July 13.

The arrests came ahead of a massive pro-democracy march planned for Saturday, but which was canceled by organizers today. Police expect protesters to show up anyway.

As the protests enter their 13th consecutive week, the past 7 days have seen escalating tensions. Last Sunday, a Hong Kong police officer fired a live shot into the air during protests for the first time.

Then in the week, Chief Executive Carrie Lam refused to rule out invoking emergency powers and a prominent protest organizer was attacked by masked men carrying baseball bats and knives.

Amnesty International called Friday's arrests a tactic "straight out of Beijing’s playbook."

5:50 a.m. ET, August 30, 2019

Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow granted bail

Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow, of the Demosisto pro-democracy group, have been granted bail.

The pair are expected to speak to press shortly.

3:52 a.m. ET, August 30, 2019

Police arrest outspoken pro-democracy politician

Outspoken pro-democracy politician Rick Hui was arrested on Friday. Police have also arrested three high-profile activists in the past 24 hours.

Hui, a member of the Sha Tin District Council, was arrested on suspicion of “obstructing the police officers in the performance of their duty," police said in a statement.

The accusation relates to Hui’s alleged participation in a rally in Sha Tin in the city's New Territories. Hui remains in police custody.

Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Andy Chan were arrested on suspicion of protest-related offenses.

The most serious charge that Wong and Chow face is “inciting others to participate in unlawful assembly," which carries a maximum penalty of five years in jail if convicted.

3:29 a.m. ET, August 30, 2019

Hong Kong's summer of discontent has overtaken the Umbrella Movement

No one predicted this.

In 2014, when the final protesters were cleared from Hong Kong's streets after 79 days of pro-democracy protests -- many of them forcibly carried off by police -- they promised they'd be back.

For years that seemed like a pipe dream. But this summer has proved not so.

Four years and eight months and 12 days after the Umbrella Movement ended, on Tuesday this week the current protests surpassed the Umbrella Movement in duration and massively overtook it in terms of disruption and political turmoil.

And they show no signs of stopping.

Hong Kong protesters promised to return after the last Umbrella Movement activists left the streets in December 2014.
Hong Kong protesters promised to return after the last Umbrella Movement activists left the streets in December 2014.

As the protests enter their 13th weekend the complete withdrawal of the now-shelved bill that would have allowed extradition to mainland China remains a priority. But protesters have also expanded their demands to include the driving issue of the 2014 protests: Genuine democracy in how the city picks its leader.

The Umbrella Movement, a brief explainer:

When the British handed Hong Kong back to Chinese control in 1997, the city switched from having a London-picked governor to a local Chief Executive, selected by an "election committee" and officially appointed by Beijing. 

But the ultimate aim was for the city's leader to be elected "by universal suffrage."

In 2014, however, China's leaders ruled out full universal suffrage, saying that candidates could be elected by the public -- only after they had been approved by a Beijing-dominated nomination committee.

Most democratic activists and lawmakers rejected the deal as a sham and it was eventually defeated in the city's legislature after a botched walkout by pro-government legislators.

In the interim, hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers occupied parts of the city for 79-days, demanding Beijing withdraw its decision and allow the chief executive to be elected by "genuine universal suffrage."

After the use of tear gas in the early hours of the protests backfired spectacularly, bringing more people to the streets, authorities took a largely hands-off approach, and the Umbrella Movement had gradually fizzled out by the time police cleared the last dedicated protesters in December 2014.

3:22 a.m. ET, August 30, 2019

"Scare tactics straight out of Beijing’s playbook"

The director of Amnesty International Hong Kong, has described the arrests pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow on Friday morning and independence activist Andy Chan on Thursday night, as a tactic "straight out of Beijing’s playbook."

In a statement, Man-kei Tam said that the arrests of Agnes Chow and Joshua Wong constituted an "outrageous assault on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly."

“This past week, we have seen scare tactics straight out of Beijing’s playbook: pro-democracy protest organizers attacked by thugs, prominent activists arrested after being snatched from their homes and streets, and a major rally planned for Saturday banned," said Tam.

“The authorities must end this concerted attack on the freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly. It is vital that the authorities send a clear message that people in Hong Kong can still enjoy these rights irrespective of their political beliefs,” he added.  

Police have charged Wong, 22, with "inciting others to participate in unlawful assembly," "organizing unauthorized assembly" and " knowingly participating in an unauthorized assembly.”

Chow, also 22, is charged with "inciting others to participate in unlawful assembly" and "knowingly participating in unauthorized assembly."

3:15 a.m. ET, August 30, 2019

Charge facing Hong Kong activists carries 5 years maximum penalty

High-profile Hong Kong democracy activists Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow could face five years in jail if convicted of "inciting others to participate in unlawful assembly."

They are both set to appear at the Eastern Districts Magistrate’s Court on Hong Kong Island this afternoon, after being arrested this morning.

Police have charged Wong, 22, with "inciting others to participate in unlawful assembly," "organizing unauthorized assembly" and " knowingly participating in an unauthorized assembly.”

Chow, also 22, is charged with "inciting others to participate in unlawful assembly" and "knowingly participating in unauthorized assembly."

"Inciting others to participate in unlawful assembly” is the most serious of their charges.

2:41 a.m. ET, August 30, 2019

Jimmy Lai, founder of Apple Daily: "If we fight tyranny a miracle can happen"

Jimmy Lai knows the price of fighting for democracy in Hong Kong: it's made the former textile tycoon a public target for decades.

Since founding his pro-democracy tabloid, Apple Daily, in the 1990s, Lai's activism has threatened his fortune, subjected him to death threats and made him a symbol of the city's tensions with mainland China.

Jimmy Lai with his Chinese-language Apple Daily newspaper which sparked a price war when it launched in 1995.
Jimmy Lai with his Chinese-language Apple Daily newspaper which sparked a price war when it launched in 1995.

"It's my nature to be a rebel -- to be a revolutionary," says the 70-year-old, who got rich through the Giordano retail brand. "I don't believe in incremental change."

Apple Daily has been the newspaper of the protesters in recent months. Its front pages tell citizens to go out and march, it has given away posters to raise at demonstrations, and it regularly taunts Carrie Lam's government for its failures.

Businesses with interests across the border hardly ever associate with the newspaper.

"No other tycoon is willing to" be so outspoken against Beijing as Lai, says Clement So, a Chinese University of Hong Kong professor. Speaking out against Beijing is generally seen as bad for business.

That outspokenness doesn't come without dangers.

In 2015, Molotov cocktails were hurled at the Apple Daily's offices and Lai's home in the early hours of the morning. Today, Lai has a personal security detail at his home. But the dangers of the struggle don't deter the septuagenarian.

"If we fight, we might have a miracle happen," he says. "If we don't fight, we have to submit to the tyranny. I just think that if we have been able to eliminate slavery we have the ability to eliminate tyranny, too. That's hopeful."
1:57 a.m. ET, August 30, 2019

Demosisto leaders: "There is no room for dialogue now"

Demosisto Vice Chairperson Isaac Cheng speaks to press on the arrest of party leaders Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow, in Hong Kong on August 30, 2019.
Demosisto Vice Chairperson Isaac Cheng speaks to press on the arrest of party leaders Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow, in Hong Kong on August 30, 2019. LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images

Demosisto, the political group of arrested pro-democracy activists Agnes Chow and Joshua Wong, said on Friday that the arrests were meant to "spread fear."

"When they are creating figures that lead the whole movement, they are creating common figures and telling the people that they are the leaders controlling everything," said Isaac Cheng, the Vice Chairperson of Demosisto.

"They want to get the so-called 'leaders' of the movement, in order to let other people be afraid they’ll be next," Cheng said.

The pro-democracy movement this summer in Hong Kong has been fluid and proudly leaderless -- making the arrests of prominent figures like Chow and Wong unusual.

What this means for the movement: Tomorrow's mass march, planned by the Civil Human Rights Front, has been cancelled after failing to obtain police approval. But Cheng says he believes people will continue protesting in the future, undaunted by the threat of arrest.

"Terror is not useful when you have hope," he said.

He added that Hong Kongers, united in the movement, would be angry and protest regardless of who had been arrested -- high profile or not.

"There is no room for dialogue now," he said, dismissing the government's repeated calls for open dialogue. "They are still not responding to our five demands, and they are still using violence ... Our five demands are really clear."

2:47 a.m. ET, August 30, 2019

Hong Kong experts: The arrests mean the government is "cracking down"

Police stand guard in front of a police station on August 24, 2019 in Hong Kong.
Police stand guard in front of a police station on August 24, 2019 in Hong Kong. Chris McGrath/Getty Images

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There have been hundreds of arrests this summer -- but Hong Kong legal experts say today's targeted roundup may indicate that the government is losing patience and cracking down on the pro-democracy movement.

"These sorts of charges have been taking place -- I think the point is the timing is very unfortunate, it comes one day before the anniversary of China’s refusal to grant Hong Kong their constitutional right to democracy," said Kevin Yam, a Hong Kong lawyer and political commentator.

Tomorrow's planned protest marks a symbolic anniversary -- 5 years ago, the central Chinese government said no to open elections in Hong Kong. Protesters say this stifles democracy, and are now calling for universal suffrage.

"What does this mean? It means they’re cracking down," said David Zweig, professor emeritus at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and director of Transnational China Consulting Limited.

"They’ve got until October 1 to decapitate the movement. I’m sure that’s their strategy," he added. October 1 is the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.

Both Yam and Zweig said the arrests are a striking contrast to the Hong Kong government's repeated calls for open and peaceful dialogue.

"Who are you having dialogue with if you arrest the leaders of the movement?" said Zweig.