A few months later, in November, the government disqualified four pro-democracy incumbents who it said had supported or had been inadequately critical of U.S. sanctions on the city; the remaining opposition members resigned in protest. Last month, civil servants were called upon to pledge their loyalty to Hong Kong.
The arrests on Wednesday heightened the possibility that many of Hong Kong’s best-known pro-democracy politicians would not be able to run in the rescheduled elections this fall, either because they could be in prison or because their arrests would give officials reasons to disqualify them.
John Lee, Hong Kong’s secretary for security, said that the arrested activists, if elected, would try to paralyze Hong Kong’s government and lead the city into a “bottomless abyss.”
“That is why police action today is necessary,” he said at a news conference on Wednesday.
The Chinese government praised the Hong Kong authorities on Wednesday. Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong’s people had not been affected by the arrests.
The primary, which was held in July, was organized by the pro-democracy camp in an effort to pare down the number of candidates in the September election. Dozens of opposition candidates had expressed interest in running despite a voting system that gives significant advantages to establishment candidates. The pro-democracy camp, which had a long shot of winning a majority, had wanted to try to ride the momentum created by the landslide defeat of establishment candidates in the 2019 district council elections.
If they had managed to win, many of the opposition candidates had said they planned to use that majority to block the government’s agenda, including vetoing the annual budget. If the budget is vetoed twice, the chief executive would be forced under Hong Kong law to step down.
Government officials had warned that such a plan could be considered subversion under the national security law. “It is wrong to seriously interfere, disrupt or undermine the performance of duties and functions by the central or local governments,” Erick Tsang, Hong Kong’s constitutional affairs minister, said in an interview with pro-Beijing media in July.