IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Dozens of pro-democracy activists detained and charged with subversion in Hong Kong

“I hope everyone won’t give up on Hong Kong ... (and) fight on," activist Sam Cheung told reporters Sunday before entering a police station.
Image: Pro-democracy activist Sam Cheung hugs his wife before reporting to the police station over national security law charges, in Hong Kong
Pro-democracy activist Sam Cheung hugs his wife as arrives to report to the police station over national security law charges in Hong Kong on Sunday.Jessie Pang / Reuters

Dozens of pro-democracy activists and opposition figures were charged with conspiracy to commit subversion in Hong Kong Sunday, in the largest single crackdown on the opposition under the national security law imposed by Beijing last year.

Hong Kong police said in a statement that 47 people had been detained and would appear in court on Monday. The police did not name the people who had been charged.

But a slew of social media posts quickly appeared naming some of them and local media filmed them as the reported to police stations after they were summoned by the authorities.

Joshua Wong, a leading figure in Hong Kong's pro-democratic movement who is already in prison for his role in an anti-government rally in 2019, was charged with conspiracy to commit subversion, according to a post on his Facebook page.

Former law professor Benny Tai poses for photographers before walking in a police station in Hong Kong Sunday on Sunday.AP

The Facebook page of Lester Shum, another prominent protest leader, also said he had been charged.

Before entering a police station, activist Sam Cheung told reporters that Hong Kongers had "a really tough time these days,” according to Reuters. “I hope everyone won’t give up on Hong Kong ... (and) fight on,” he said.

The Facebook pages of prominent activists, including Eddie Chu, Alvin Yeung, Owen Chow, Fergus Leung and Tiffany Yuen, said they were charged as well. NBC News has not been able to verify this. Reuters reported that former law professor Benny Tai was also charged.

The detentions were condemned by rights groups including Amnesty International which called them an "outrageous attack on peaceful expression and association," on Twitter.

Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch also tweeted that Beijing was showing "it's true colors."

"Hong Kong democracy activists are charged with 'subversion.' Why? Because they organized an informal primary election to select the strongest pro-democracy candidates. In other words, "subversion" is favoring democracy," he wrote.

The detentions come after dozens of democracy activists and former lawmakers were arrested in a sweeping police operation last month, accused of organizing and participating an unofficial primary last July.

Download the NBC News app for breaking news and politics

Pro-democracy activists and lawmakers held the primary election to figure out which candidates they should field in a now-postponed legislative election that would boost their chances of gaining a majority of seats in legislature. Gaining a majority would allow the pro-democracy camp to vote against bills they deemed to be pro-Beijing, block budgets and paralyze the government.

But authorities said that the activists’ participation in the primaries was part of a plan to paralyze the city’s legislature and subvert state power.

Beijing imposed the national security law last June to quell dissent following months of anti-government protests in 2019 against perceived Chinese suppression of Hong Kong’s basic liberties and autonomy. The new law punishes acts of subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorism with possible life imprisonment.

Following the handover of Hong Kong to China by the British in 1997, Hong Kong has operated on a “one country, two systems” framework that affords it freedoms not found on the mainland.

But in recent years, Beijing has asserted more control over the city, drawing criticism that Hong Kong’s freedoms were under attack.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Ed Flanagan contributed.