HONG KONG — The Hong Kong police arrested nine pro-democracy activists on Thursday, adding to a recent crackdown said to be aimed at defanging opposition protests ahead of an expected visit by President Xi Jinping of China in July.
“They want to silence the opposition and discourage the general public from participating in protests,” said Avery Ng, chairman of the League of Social Democrats and one of the nine people arrested over their roles in a November protest against China’s move to block two separatists from taking office as local legislators.
The arrests on Thursday followed a series of recent legal actions against opposition politicians and protest organizers in Hong Kong, a former British colony, and came just two months before the 20th anniversary of its return to Chinese rule, when President Xi is expected to visit the semiautonomous territory.
Pro-democracy groups are planning large protests against what they see as Beijing’s tightening grip on the city’s freedom, supposedly guaranteed under an arrangement known as “one country, two systems.” The groups have increasingly called for greater autonomy, if not independence, from China.
On Wednesday, two pro-independence politicians, Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Leung, and three of their assistants were charged over their attempt to enter Hong Kong’s legislative chamber after it refused to swear them in because they inserted anti-China snubs into their oaths of office.
Last month, the Hong Kong authorities brought criminal charges against nine other protest organizers, including the three founders of the huge protests in 2014 that paralyzed streets in several parts of the city for weeks.