Mass arrests are a chilling sign of China's intention to choke Hong Kong autonomy

Pro-democratic party members shout slogans in response to the mass arrests during a press conference in Hong Kong. Credit: AP

For many in Hong Kong today it must have felt like the new year they’ve just begun was 2047, not 2021.

This morning 1,000 police officers were deployed across the city to arrest 53 people.

Former pro-democracy law makers, academics, activists, an American lawyer and even a well-known ethnic minority social worker were swept up in the most ruthless crackdown so far since the introduction of the Beijing-imposed National Security law last year.

A further chilling indication of China’s disregard for the 1997 handover agreement and its intention to choke off the autonomy promised to Hong Kong for 50 years.

Today’s police operation also led to the freezing of more than one million Hong Kong Dollars, the search of 72 properties and to four media organisations being raided and ordered to hand over evidence.

Those arrested face allegations of subversion, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. As has been seen in other NSL cases, they could also be held indefinitely for weeks while awaiting their formal hearings and charges.

Pro-democratic party members respond to the mass arrests. Credit: AP

The arrests are being related to an informal primary in July of last year to choose candidates for a September legislative election, which was subsequently postponed.

The Hong Kong government has accused those involved of hatching an ‘’evil’’ plan of “mutual destruction”.

In a statement today, the opposition figures were accused of being involved in a plot to overthrow the government and of attempting to seriously destroy the Hong Kong government’s legal execution of duties”.

Among those facing these charges under the NSL is Joshua Wong, who is currently serving a 13.5-month sentence for inciting and organising a protest last year.

China’s Foreign Ministry responded to questions about the arrest by saying the police in Hong Kong had "performed their duties in accordance with the law" and had the backing of Beijing.

The European Union has called for the immediate release of those arrested and said that the arrests send a signal that political pluralism is no longer tolerated in Hong Kong. The United States also condemned the arrests along with several Human Rights organisations including Amnesty International.

However, it is clear now - if it wasn’t already - that no amount of international criticism or condemnation can derail the process underway in Hong Kong, or give China pause for thought.

Democracy and freedom in Hong Kong cannot survive, if those fighting for those rights have lost theirs.

In relation to the mass arrests, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: "The mass arrest of politicians and activists in Hong Kong is a grievous attack on Hong Kong's rights and freedoms as protected under the Joint Declaration.

“These arrests demonstrate that the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities deliberately misled the world about the true purpose of the National Security Law, which is being used to crush dissent and opposing political views.

“The UK will not turn our backs on the people of Hong Kong and will continue to offer British Nationals (Overseas) the right to live and work in the UK."