HONG KONG: Police cracked down on Hong Kong democracy activists Monday saying they would be charged over the Umbrella Movement mass protests, a day after a pro-Beijing candidate was chosen as the city’s new leader.
Carrie Lam was selected as the new chief executive Sunday by a committee dominated by pro-China voters, but promised to try to unify the deeply divided city.
The vote was dismissed as a sham by democracy campaigners who fear Beijing is tightening its grip on semi-autonomous Hong Kong and say Lam will be no different from its unpopular current leader, Leung Chun-ying.
Those concerns were heightened Monday when police informed several leading campaigners who took part in the Umbrella Movement of 2014 that they would be charged in connection with the rallies.
The protests saw tens of thousands take to the streets calling for fully free leadership elections, but failed to win concessions from Beijing.
Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan told AFP she had received a call from police Friday morning telling her she would be charged with causing a public nuisance, with a maximum sentence of seven years.
“They said it was related to the ‘illegal occupation’ of 2014,” she said, describing it as a “death kiss” from Leung, who will step down in July.
Chan said she had been arrested immediately after the protests, but had never been charged.
She will report to a police station Monday evening and will go to court Thursday.
Chan added she would take responsibility for participation in “civil disobedience activity”, but said the timing undermined Lam’s unity pledge.
Activist Raphael Wong of the League of Social Democrats told AFP he would also be charged with public nuisance and blamed Leung.
“As Carrie Lam talks about unity, they are saying you don’t need it,” he told AFP.
Professor Chan Kin-man, a founding member of Hong Kong’s Occupy Central, one of the groups behind the protests, also received a call from police informing him of an impending charge and called the move “ridiculous”.
“It shows the government has no intention to heal the divisions,” Chan said.
Local media reported that police informed a total of nine activists that they would face charges.
Lam did not directly respond over whether the move would further divide Hong Kong.
“Prosecution actions are undertaken independently by the department of justice,” she told reporters.
She repeated that she wanted unity, but said her approach “should not compromise the rule of law in Hong Kong”.
Pro-democracy campaigner Joshua Wong, one of the leaders of the Umbrella Movement, described the crackdown as “political persecution”.
He was not among those who received a police notice of charges.
Wong, legislator Nathan Law and former student protester Alex Chow were all convicted last year for taking part in, or inciting others to take part in, an anti-China protest that led up to the major rallies.
They were given community service or suspended sentences.