HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong was arrested on Friday ahead of another weekend of planned protests in the Chinese-ruled city that is grappling with its biggest political crisis since its handover to Beijing more than two decades ago.
FILE PHOTO: Former student leader Joshua Wong stands beside student activist Agnes Chow after being released on bail at the High Court in Hong Kong, China, January 23, 2018. REUTERS/Bobby Yip/File Photo
Wong, the face of Hong Kong’s push for full democracy during protests in 2014 that paralyzed parts of the city for 79 days, was released from jail in June after serving a five-week term for contempt of court.
“He was suddenly pushed into a private car on the street,” Wong’s political party Demosisto, which advocates for greater democracy in Hong Kong, said on its official Twitter account.
“He has now been escorted to the police headquarters in Wan Chai,” it said. Demosisto’s lawyers were working on the case, it said.
Demosisto party member Agnes Chow was also arrested, the group said, although it was not clear what charges she faced.
Andy Chan, a founder of the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party that was banned last September, said on his Facebook page late on Thursday he had been detained at Hong Kong’s international airport and that he had been told he was about to be arrested.
Police did not respond immediately to requests for comment about all three.
Unrest in Hong Kong escalated in mid-June over a now-suspended extradition bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial in Communist Party-controlled courts.
It has since evolved into calls for greater democracy under the “one country, two systems” formula, which guarantees freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland that include an independent judiciary, under which Hong Kong ha been ruled since 1997.
China has accused foreign powers, particularly the United States and Britain, of fomenting the demonstrations in the former British colony and warned against foreign governments interfering in the city’s protests.
A photograph in a pro-Beijing newspaper earlier this month of Wong meeting a U.S. consular official triggered a war of words between Washington and Beijing.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus called China a “thuggish regime” for disclosing photographs and personal details of the diplomat.
Nearly 900 people have been arrested since the demonstrations escalated in mid-June with frequent clashes between protesters and police, who have at times fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse activists.
China brought fresh troops into Hong Kong on Thursday in what it described as a routine rotation of its garrison there.
Chinese state media stressed the troop movement was routine and Asian and Western diplomats watching the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) forces in the territory had been expecting it.
Police have refused permission for a pro-democracy march on Saturday but organizers have appealed against the decision.
The Civil Human Rights Front, the organizer of previous mass protests in Hong Kong, plans a rally from Hong Kong’s Central business district to Beijing’s main representative Liaison Office in the city.
The group’s leader, Jimmy Sham, was attacked by two men armed with a knife and a baseball bat on Thursday, it said on its Facebook page. He was not hurt but a friend who tried to protect him suffered injuries to his arm.
“The repeated harassment of pro-democracy activists, combined with police bans on demonstrations, has created a climate of fear for peaceful protesters,” Amnesty International said in a statement.
“It is vital that the authorities send a clear message that those who target peaceful activists with such violence, irrespective of their political views, will face justice,” it said.
Saturday’s protest will mark five years since Beijing ruled out universal suffrage for Hong Kong and comes as Hong Kong faces its first recession in a decade, with all its pillars of growth under stress.
Reporting By Jessie Pang, Anne Marie Roantree, Donny Kwok and Twinnie Siu; Editing by Michael Perry and Paul Tait