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Politics

Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmakers arrested on riot charges

Two prominent politicians among 16 people held over 2019 protests

Pro-democracy legislator Lam Cheuk-ting, center, scuffles with security during a Legislative Council House Committee meeting on May 18.   © Reuters

HONG KONG -- More than a dozen people including two pro-democracy lawmakers were arrested by Hong Kong police on Wednesday morning in connection with anti-government protests.

According to the Hong Kong Police Force, 16 people were arrested, including opposition lawmakers Lam Cheuk-ting and Ted Hui Chi-fung. Thirteen of those were arrested on suspicion of participating in protests that were held in the Yuen Long district on July 21, 2019.

Dozens of demonstrators and citizens were assaulted during that protest, leading to a massive show of public opposition toward the police. Citizens have accused police officers of colluding with white-shirted gangsters to stage an attack on pro-democracy protesters -- a claim that authorities have repeatedly denied. Lam was among those assaulted at that protest.

Lam and Hui are well-known lawmakers who have participated in Hong Kong protests. Hui had filed private charges against alleged assaulters and police, but they already have been blocked by Hong Kong's Department of Justice.

Lam was arrested on rioting charges, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment, while Hui was arrested on several charges including illegal assembly and obstruction of justice.

"We can easily draw a concluding remark that the arrest is a revenge against them," said Democratic Party leader Wu Chi-wai, who blamed the Hong Kong Police Force for "swearing that black is white" due to Lam being charged with rioting despite being a victim of the assault.

"It is ridiculous," Wu said. "It is obviously a political prosecution."

In a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, police senior superintendent Chan Tin-chu said protesters had been engaging in a "vigorous fight" with the alleged attackers at Yuen Long, instead of being assaulted.

"Such violent actions constitute a riot," Chan said, adding that livestreamed videos taken by the news media could have been "biased."

However, pro-democracy district councilors rebutted the police claim that protesters took part in a fight.

"It's groundless to say barehanded people was fighting with assaulters armed with metal rods," said Tommy Cheung Sau-yin, a district councilor in the Yuen Long district. "The government is trying to distort the history... but I believe people in Hong Kong can remember the truth."

Police recently have been ramping up arrests of pro-democracy activists and lawmakers. Earlier this month, media tycoon Jimmy Lai and pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow were arrested under a new security law imposed by Beijing on Hong Kong. The two were later released on bail.

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, Hong Kong has prohibited gatherings of more than two people, making it difficult to hold protests.

The crackdown on pro-democracy advocates continues, including arrests related to last year's protests.

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