The phones rang on Friday, one month earlier than expected. More than 50 pro-democracy politicians and activists across Hong Kong received a call from the authorities: they were to report to police on Sunday.
Expecting to be charged and held for lengthy jail terms, many spent the weekend making last-minute preparations. They picked out books to take into custody, arranged for pets to be taken care of, said goodbye to their loved ones. Tiffany Yuen, 27, spent the day at home, where she was photographed cuddling a Buzz Lightyear toy, before visiting constituents in Tin Wan.
“When the police called, I knew it’s bad news,” said one, who spent most of the weekend quietly hugging his child. “I probably won’t be able to hold my kid for some years. I said: ‘You might not see daddy for several years. You have to be brave and look after mummy.’”
“I never thought things would come to this,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity, fearing his comments would be used as further evidence against him under the national security law. The legislation, introduced in Hong Kong in June, penalises acts seen by the authorities as subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces or terrorism with up to life in prison.
“I don’t know what sort of One Country Two Systems this is,” he said, referring to the policy meant to uphold Hong Kong’s freedoms and rights under Chinese rule after the 1997 handover of sovereignty.
“Now, even the mildest forms of opposition – chanting slogans and wearing certain colour masks – are seen as a potential breaches of national security law,” he said. “The red line is constantly shifting – we feel very insecure.”
In a dawn raid on 6 January that sent shock waves across Hong Kong, 55 Hong Kong pro-democracy figures, from former lawmakers, local district councillors to young campaigners and activists, were arrested over primary polls held last year. The sweeping police crackdown marked the single biggest operation conducted under the controversial national security law Beijing imposed on Hong Kong last year.
On Sunday, Hong Kong police charged 47 of them with conspiracy to commit subversion, and held them in custody before they appeared in court on Monday. Prosecutors alleged they had schemed to select candidates who could win a majority of the 70 legislative council seats in an election – subsequently postponed by the government – and then to indiscriminately block legislation to “paralyse” parliament and force the resignation of the chief executive.
They were detained in custody, appearing in marathon bail hearings that ran for most of the week. Some fainted from fatigue while others complained they were not able to change clothes for several days.
To show their eligibility for bail, some of the most prominent political figures announced their departure from their democratic political party. On Thursday, the judge denied…