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Hong Kong protests

Hong Kong activists Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow arrested

Pair released on bail vow to continue protests despite cancellation of march

Pro-democracy activists Agnes Chow, left, and Joshua Wong were released on bail after their arrests Aug. 30. (Photos by Ken Kobayashi)

HONG KONG -- Police arrested several prominent pro-democracy activists and politicians in Hong Kong on Friday ahead of a planned rally this weekend that has now been canceled.

Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow Ting, founding members of the pro-democracy group Demosisto, were among those arrested in a tightening clampdown on anti-government protests that were triggered by an extradition bill.

Wong was pushed into a car by police on his way to a railway station on Friday morning, while Chow was arrested at her home. Police said the charges were in connection with their activities on June 21, when a large number of protesters swarmed police headquarters in the city's Wan Chai district.

Both Wong and Chow were charged with participating in unauthorized assemblies and inciting others to do so. Wong faces an additional charge of organizing unauthorized assemblies. The two were later released on bail.

"The arrests and prosecution against activists will not pacify the public anger, but only make us more determined," Wong told the media after his release. The pair are subject to a curfew that bans them from leaving their houses between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. Hearings on their cases are scheduled to start Nov. 8.

The arrests of the high-profile activists one day before the scheduled march on Saturday organized by the Civil Human Rights Front were part of a strategy by Beijing and Hong Kong authorities to create fear among protesters, Chow said.

"They want to intimidate Hong Kong people into not taking part in anti-extradition law protests, or any future pro-democracy movement," she said.

The march was canceled after organizers lost an appeal to have it approved.

Wong and Chow were student leaders during the 2014 Occupy Central protests, also known as the Umbrella Movement. Wong has served three jail sentences related to charges involving Occupy Central. He was most recently jailed in May and released in mid-June.

Andy Chan, leader of the banned pro-independence Hong Kong National Party, was arrested at the city's airport late Thursday evening on suspicion of rioting and assaulting police officers, a police spokesperson said. Chan is being held pending further investigation.

Police also arrested two pro-democracy politicians on Friday. Opposition lawmaker Cheng Chung-tai has been detained on allegations of collusion in criminal damage, and Sha Tin district Councilor Rick Hui Yui-yu was arrested on suspicion of obstructing officers from performing their duties during clashes between protesters and officers at a shopping mall last month.

"We have tried all the means we have, but we can't secure the right to organize a lawful assembly or march on Aug. 31," Jimmy Sham Tsz-kit, convener of the Civil Human Rights Front, said on Friday after the failed appeal. "Under the circumstances, we can't ensure the safety of the participants. Therefore, we can only cancel the protests tomorrow." Sham said he would continue to seek police approval for protests.

Sham himself was attacked by two masked men carrying a baseball bat and a knife at a restaurant on Thursday, the organization said. Though Sham was unhurt, a companion was injured while trying to protect him and was later sent to the hospital.

Saturday's march was aimed at calling for universal suffrage in Hong Kong and the withdrawal of decisions included in a white paper issued five years ago by authorities in Beijing -- a document that partly fueled the Umbrella Movement in the following months.

The white paper, issued by China's State Council in August 2014, emphasized that Beijing was the source of Hong Kong's autonomy and holds "comprehensive jurisdiction" over the territory. While it would allow people in Hong Kong to choose their leader through universal suffrage, all candidates would have to be approved by Beijing.

Hong Kong has been gripped by nearly three months of rallies and demonstrations that have drawn as many as 2 million people, according to the Civil Human Rights Front. The protests began in reaction to a bill that would have allowed the extradition of people in Hong Kong to mainland China, which lacks a transparent and independent judicial system. Opponents of the proposal fear that Beijing could use it to imprison and silence its critics.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam was forced to suspend debate on the controversial bill in mid-June after the massive protests, but she has not formally withdrawn the bill as demonstrators have demanded.

Protests have continued on a near-daily basis in recent weeks, with groups of lawyers, accountants and aviation workers all staging separate rallies. Hong Kong's airport, a major regional transport hub, was virtually shut down for several days earlier in August after demonstrators occupied the main terminal, and airlines were forced to cancel hundreds of flights.

Demonstrators and police have clashed in often-violent protests over the summer, with police using rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray to disperse crowds. Protesters have insisted that the government open an independent investigation into allegations of excessive force by the police, but Lam has rejected that demand.

Ray Chan Chi-chuen, a pro-democracy lawmaker, on Friday accused Lam of orchestrating "the repression involving the out-of-control police force, gangsters-for-hire, violent vigilantes and China's propaganda machine."

"The arrests of Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow, banning of tomorrow's protest on the anniversary of China's decision to deny Hong Kong democracy and attacking Jimmy Sham will have the effect of provoking more people to take to the streets," Chan said.

Nikkei Asian Review deputy editor Dean Napolitano in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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