Hong Kong police have arrested two pro-democracy lawmakers for allegedly participating in social unrest last year as authorities crack down after the introduction of a national security law in June.
Ted Hui and Lam Cheuk-ting of the opposition Democratic Party were detained early on Wednesday morning, according to social media posts from the party.
The two were accused of conspiring with others to damage property and obstructing the course of justice during a protest in the Tuen Mun region of Hong Kong on July 6 last year, according to Mr Lam’s Twitter account and a police source.
Mr Lam was also accused of rioting on July 21 last year in Yuen Long, a district near the border with mainland China that was the scene of one of the bloodiest incidents in the territory’s political unrest.
The arrests of the two lawmakers follow the charging of Jimmy Lai, the Hong Kong media tycoon, this month and the detention of other activists and protesters under the new law.
Beijing imposed the security law on Hong Kong in June to crush protests in the territory, which started with opposition to an extradition law and grew into a pro-democracy movement.
The accusations against Mr Lam will probably cause particular anger to critics of the government. The politician was among more than 40 others injured when a mob of dozens of men wearing white T-shirts attacked civilians, journalists and protesters with steel and wooden rods in Yuen Long’s commuter railway station.
Alleged police inaction over the violence, which occurred over several hours despite thousands of emergency calls to the authorities, sparked public outrage. Some allege the white-clad men were members of Hong Kong’s criminal triad gangs.
Public faith in the Hong Kong police force, which was once one of the most well-regarded in Asia, plummeted following the violence, which was filmed and broadcast on local and international media.
“It is political persecution and revenge on Lam Cheuk-ting and Ted Hui,” said James To, another lawmaker from the Democratic Party. He said instead of being a victim of the alleged triad violence, the police had turned Mr Lam into a suspect.
But Ben Chan, a pro-establishment lawmaker, on his Facebook page called for Mr Lam to make clear why he went to Yuen Long that day with a group of people. “What else could it be if not provoking a fight?” he asked.
“Justice may be late but never absent,” said Junius Ho, a pro-Beijing lawmaker. Mr Ho said he welcomed the police action, which was “necessary” and “met public expectations”.
The police said they had arrested at least 16 people on Wednesday in relation to the two cases and a total of 44 people aged between 18 and 61 in relation to the Yuen Long incident.
Seven people have been charged with taking part in a riot and conspiracy to wound with intent.
It was not clear how many of the people arrested were members of the white T-shirt gang. Pro-democracy groups have complained that the police have been slow to prosecute the men but have been vigorous in pursuing protesters.
Western governments and pro-democracy groups have criticised Beijing’s security law for Hong Kong, which they maintain undermines the territory’s rule of law. Pro-establishment groups argue the new law was necessary to end protests in the city, many of which involved violent clashes with the police.