One of the 53 people arrested in Hong Kong on Wednesday, American attorney John Clancey, was released without charge pending further investigation.
According to local media, police should begin releasing the remaining detainees on Thursday after an unprecedented round-up of politicians, activists and activists on allegations that their democratic poll violated the China-imposed National Security Law (NSL) government.
The individuals, which include former lawmakers, academics, social workers and students, will be released on police bail pending charges and will likely have to report back on a regular basis. The arrest of Clancey, a prominent Hong Kong lawyer and US citizen, marked the first application of the National Security Law (NSL) against a foreigner.
Clancey, chairman of the Asian Human Rights Commission and treasurer of a group linked to the Democratic primaries at the center of the allegations, was arrested when police raided the law firm Ho, Tse, Wai and Partners his law firm on Wednesday, Reuters told Reuters.
Local media also reported Thursday that activists Joshua Wong, who is already serving a 13-month sentence, and Tam Tak Chi, who is on remand, were arrested again on related charges.
Around 1,000 police officers were mobilized to raid 72 premises and arrest 53 people, including 45 men and eight women between the ages of 23 and 79, “for subversion of state power”. This was the largest mass arrest since the national security law was passed in June. The number of people arrested for alleged violations more than doubled and the police did not rule out further arrests.
The 53 were arrested for their involvement – including as candidates – in unofficial primaries last year.
The primaries attracted 600,000 Hong Kong residents to vote for candidates who stood up for a pledge of “35+”: win a majority in the 70-seat legislature and vote on government laws to force Lam to resign.
Authorities then proposed, and confirmed Wednesday, that they viewed this as an act of subversion under the NSL, which provides life imprisonment for the most serious of crimes.
Alan Leong, a lawyer and member of the Civic Party, called the proposal “extremely ridiculous” and said the right to vote against laws was enshrined in Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
Pro-establishment lawmaker Michael Tien and a member of the Chinese National People’s Congress also questioned the allegations on Thursday.
“They say they will oppose everyone [the bills] regardless of the content … but the overriding condition for [the NSL] To do this, they have to use illegal means to achieve this, ”he told RTHK Radio. “So the question is how illegal it is to hold an elementary school … even establishment parties held their own primaries.”
Tien said the NSL would likely need to be reformulated if authorities were only to punish people for their motives and not for their methodology.
If prosecutors were unable to obtain convictions, it would be a “slap in the face” for the government as it would turn out to be incomprehensible and further divide Hong Kong society, he said.
Veteran activist Lee Cheuk-yan told the Guardian the arrests were “absurd”. “[The alleged crimes] are nowhere near national security, but they still apply the law, ”he said.