Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong speaks to the media while holding up a bail document after leaving Central Police Station in Hong Kong on Sept. 24 after being arrested for unlawful assembly related to a 2019 protest against a government ban on face masks. (Photo: Isaac Lawrence/AFP)
Armed with a national security law, the Hong Kong administration is moving ahead with its policy of targeting activists to throttle the pro-democracy movement in the former British colony.
Activists, including some Catholics, say the administrative moves will only add to citizens' anxiety about their political future and worries about current governance.
In the latest move, pro-democracy activists were arrested on Sept. 24. Joshua Wong was arrested for allegedly attending an unauthorized protest last October and violating the city's anti-mask law.
Another activist, Koo Sze-yiu, was also arrested for participating in the protest last October.
The 23-year-old Wong, a Christian, said his arrest was politically motivated and aimed to stoke fear among people and to damage a protest march planned for next week.
"The government wants to produce a chilling effect on Hong Kong people to frighten people away from the October 1 march," Wong said, referring to a rally planned for National Day.
Wong said he "will continue to resist, and we should also let the world know Hong Kong people will not easily surrender."
The city's administration "can't censor our commitment to fight for freedom. The chilling effect will not work and is not the way out, and they cannot force us to surrender," he said
Pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong erupted in June last year over the now-abandoned extradition bill. The draconian national security law was imposed on Hong Kong on June 30 this year as a fallout from last year's demonstrations.
Thousands of pro-democracy protesters, mostly young people wearing masks to hide their identity, demonstrated while accusing the Beijing-controlled administration of increasingly choking their democratic freedom.
The administration responded by imposing an anti-mask law on Oct. 5 last year, purportedly to restore social order after months of violent protests. In November, the court declared the anti-mask law unconstitutional.
However, an amended version of the law remains in force in Hong Kong. This anti-mask law marked the beginning of authoritarian rule in the semi-autonomous region.
Jackie Hung, project officer of the Justice and Peace Commission of Hong Kong Diocese, said she finds the arrests "paradoxical."
"The Hong Kong government has not only failed in building people's confidence but also the recent arrests have made people feel the arrests are a retributive move," she said.
The arrests, she said, "cannot lessen Hong Kong people's dissatisfaction with the government. On the contrary, it will increase young people's anxiety about the future of Hong Kong, which will not help improve social unity."
Amnesty International Hong Kong's program manager Lam Cho-ming said the arrests "highlighted the authorities' escalating crackdown on critical voices."
The EU's spokeswoman on foreign affairs, Nabila Massrali, said the arrests "call into question China's will to uphold its international commitments, undermine trust and impact EU-China relations."
In June, Wong disbanded his pro-democracy group Demosisto just a few hours after China's National Assembly passed the national security law for Hong Kong, bypassing the city state's local legislature.
The new law punishes anything China considers as subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.