HONG KONG—Police arrested seven opposition figures Sunday, including four sitting pro-democracy lawmakers, and charged them with offenses related to a scuffle that broke out in Hong Kong’s legislature earlier this year.
Officers made a series of early morning arrests at the homes of three politicians from the Democratic Party, one from the Labour Party, and two former legislators from the pan-democratic camp; another Labour lawmaker was detained at the police station. Police said the seven were charged with contempt and interference with Legislative Council officers under a law governing conduct in the chamber, an offense that carries up to 12 months in prison.
They said the group would be granted bail until a Thursday court appearance.
The bloc of pan-democratic lawmakers condemned the actions in a statement, saying the arrests suppress the rights of legislators to dissent. Hong Kong’s department of justice didn’t immediately comment outside regular working hours.
The decision to prosecute the lawmakers over behavior in the chamber adds to mounting legal battles for opposition figures in the city. Many already face charges for their roles in a mass uprising against the government that erupted in June last year. Pressure on the pro-democracy camp has intensified this year after Beijing implemented a wide-ranging national-security law in the territory in late June.
Officials also postponed for a year elections for the Legislative Council scheduled for September, citing public-health risks from the coronavirus. Opposition groups called the delay a political move to ensure the body retained its pro-Beijing majority.
Half of the city’s legislature is directly elected with the other half chosen by industry bodies. They have limited powers in Hong Kong, but with sufficient numbers can delay or veto legislation. Debates are often feisty and there have at times been skirmishes between opposing lawmakers.
Police in a briefing said they charged seven people, aged 33 to 63, on suspicion of disrupting order during the Legislative Council meeting on May 8 this year.
On that day, a shouting match escalated into a physical tussle during a key committee meeting after a pro-establishment legislator took the chairperson’s seat. The role had been a contentious issue after a pro-democracy lawmaker filibustered filling the seat for months, causing a backlog of bills for review.
When the pro-establishment leader, Starry Lee, assumed the seat, some pro-democracy figures surrounded her and tried to take the seat back, with some later forcibly removed from the legislative chamber by security officers.
Two of the seven arrested were lawmakers at the time of the fracas but chose not to stay on when the government extended the legislature’s term for a year until the postponed elections take place. Another of the accused, the chairman of the Labour Party, is an aide to a lawmaker.
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