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Arrests of Hong Kong democracy activists will only galvanize protests

Arbitrary detentions highlight Carrie Lam's 'hypocritical' call for dialogue

| Hong Kong, Macao
Pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong, left, and Agnes Chow arrive at the Eastern Court by police van on Aug. 30.   © Reuters

Hong Kong democracy activists Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow Ting, along with a number of others, were arrested on the morning of Friday, August 30. These arrests came on the eve of the anniversary of China's decision to deny democracy to Hong Kong, which sparked the Umbrella Movement in 2014.

These arbitrary arrests not only show the repressive nature of Chief Executive Carrie Lam's regime, but also do the opposite of what is needed to solve the political deadlock and calm down the protests.

If Lam thinks arresting so-called "leaders" in a leaderless movement can quell the protests, she cannot be more wrong. More Hong Kong people will take to the streets to press for government accountability and to free the detained activists.

Wong and Chow -- later released on bail -- were reportedly charged with three counts relating to the protests that took place at police headquarters on June 21. Multitudes of Hong Kongers followed them there as they demanded answers for the excessive use of force by the police in response to peaceful demonstrations against a bill that would allow the extradition of people in Hong Kong to mainland China.

Wong and Chow, and the people protesting around them, were orderly and peaceful, and no police officers were ever threatened. If anything, the police force should have thanked Wong and Chow for keeping the furious crowd at bay.

But these selective and arbitrary arrests show the police are more interested in terrorizing Hong Kongers than protecting them: many of the perpetrators of the attacks on reporters, protesters and civilians in Yuen Long and other neighborhoods are still at large.

These arrests expose the hypocrisy surrounding Carrie Lam's call for dialogue. As the festivities for October 1, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, loom large, Beijing wants all Hong Kong protests to cease and the result is a terror campaign to stifle all dissent.

It involves police brutality and sexual assaults during police interrogation; violent vigilantes who have stabbed, assaulted and harassed anyone they deemed "troublemakers" or "unpatriotic"; fabricated news from China's propaganda machine to stir up tensions between Hong Kong and the mainland; and, as of yesterday, the arbitrary arrests of prominent activists.

Unfortunately, this is only the beginning. Leaked sources reveal that Lam was even considering using extensive emergency powers, which include indefinite detention, suppression of press freedom and confiscating private property.

I foresee that the government will show no interest in making concessions and exercise no restraint in using the fullest extent of its power to put down the protests at all costs.

In the face of the immense danger presented by police batons, rubber bullets, expired tear gas, "beanbag" rounds of lead pellets and, until recently, water cannon and real bullets, there have been some radical elements among the Hong Kong protesters who are not shy to show their strength -- even though their "protective" gear is construction helmets, surfboards, goggles, umbrellas, tennis racquets and Saran wrap.

However, the overwhelming majority of Hong Kongers who show dissent on the streets are utterly non-violent and realistic when it comes to politics. All they want is for Beijing to keep its promise of allowing a high degree of autonomy and good governance in Hong Kong and maintaining the Hong Kong way of life.

The arrests have the effect of angering and mobilizing this majority once again, as we have already seen in three million-strong marches over the last two months. Knowing that the anti-Extradition Bill and pro-democracy movement has been spontaneous and leaderless, the people will not bow to China's terror campaign and will again appeal to the international community.

On August 23, for instance, drawing inspiration from the Baltic Way exactly 30 years ago, tens of thousands formed a human chain across Hong Kong, Kowloon and even on the ridge of the Lion Rock to symbolize our solidarity with protesters. Virtually nobody had the slightest idea of how such a long human chain could be formed at such short notice.

Looking forward, I can assure Nikkei Asian Review readers that unless the government backs down, there will be protests in every neighborhood, in every school, at every hospital and at every workplace.

Hong Kong people will show the Group of Seven nations and the rest of the world our determination to fight till the bitter end.

Moreover, Hong Kongers welcome international sanctions and boycotts being imposed on Hong Kong and China: China's peaceful rise and high-speed economic growth have been shown to be morally corrupt on the world stage.

Even if China and its puppets or agents in Hong Kong are able to win this battle, Hong Kongers will not lose the war. Hong Kong will inflict tremendous political, economic and social costs on the Communist Party's rule over China.

Raymond Chan is a member of Legislative Council, Hong Kong, and chair of People Power, a political coalition.

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