This story has been updated with the details of further arrests.
Hong Kong woke up this morning (Aug. 30) to the news that 22-year-old Joshua Wong was arrested.
He wasn’t the only one. His close friend Agnes Chow, 22, was arrested at her home shortly after Wong was picked up by police in a private car in the South Horizons neighborhood where he lives, according to political party Demosisto. They were arrested on charges related to inciting others to participate in and taking part in an unlawful assembly, according to local broadcaster RTHK.
Wong and Chow were founding members of the party, which was formed in 2016. The two were also core members of the student protest group Scholarism, which played leading roles in the 2014 Umbrella Movement and the 2012 protests against a government plan to enforce patriotic education in Hong Kong schools.
None of them, however—despite their high international profile—play any leadership role in the current wave of protests that have continued for nearly three months in the city. The movement remains leaderless and bottom-up, run by protesters using the internet to communicate and make decisions. Wong himself was in prison when this summer’s protests kicked off in June, and was only released in the middle of that month.
The arrests today come after Andy Chan, convenor of the banned Hong Kong National Party, was barred from leaving Hong Kong last night at the airport, and then arrested on charges of taking part in a riot and assaulting police.
The arrests appear to signal a harder line from the government, coming just days after Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam said at a news conference that the government would not respond to any of the protesters’ key demands—which include a full withdrawal of the suspended extradition bill and an investigation into police conduct—but would instead use all “legal means” to suppress the protests. She also did not rule out the possibly that the government might introduce colonial-era emergency powers to crack down on protesters, just a little over a month before the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Lam reiterated that she would press ahead with her intention to form a “platform for dialogue,” though it’s unclear how she would proceed with that given the protesters’ core five demands are off the table.
The arrests come ahead of a critical few days ahead for the government, including a planned protest tomorrow (Aug. 31) in Hong Kong’s Central district to mark five years since a landmark decision by Beijing to limit universal suffrage in the city that kicked off the 2014 Umbrella Movement. Police have rejected the application to hold the rally, citing a high risk of violence following a serious escalation of violence during last weekend’s protests. Critics decried the move as an affront to the right to gather as enshrined in the city’s mini constitution.
Jimmy Sham, the convenor of the protest group that applied for tomorrow’s protest, was attacked by masked men wielding a baseball bat and knife yesterday (Aug. 29) afternoon. Hours later, another protest organizer was physically assaulted by four men.
Beijing yesterday (Aug. 29) announced it had rotated new troops to the Hong Kong People’s Liberation Army garrison. The move happens annually around this time, but this year some of the movements were more visible, prompting questions about whether numbers of troops were increased.
It’s unlikely that the police ban on the planned protest will prevent people from turning out to the streets, as earlier weeks have shown. Indeed, the ban itself, as well as the arrests, are only likely to further inflame people’s anger, making it even more likely they’ll protest in some form.
Despite using the potential for violence as the justification for banning tomorrow’s protest, it’s unlikely this weekend in Hong Kong will be a quiet one.