Police on Monday called the leaders of Hong Kong’s 2014 pro-democracy Occupy protests, and six other politicians and activists, to tell them they will be prosecuted – only a day after Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor won a divisive chief executive election.
The news came less than an hour after outgoing chief executive Leung Chun-ying’s first meeting with chief executive-elect Lam, who won the city leadership on Sunday.
Some of those set to be charged said the move was a “poisoned chalice” for Lam, deliberately left by Leung, while another said he thought the calls had been delayed until after the poll to protect Lam’s campaign.
Lam said Leung had “responded positively” during the meeting to her election pledge to unify a divided city. She said she did not know if the timing of the calls so soon after her election had been deliberate, and said bridging political divides “should not compromise rule of law”.
Officers called three chief organisers of the 79-day sit-ins, Occupy Central co-founders Benny Tai Yiu-ting, Reverend Chu Yiu-ming and Dr Chan Kin-man.
League of Social Democrats activist Raphael Wong Ho-ming and former legislator Lee Wing-tat were also called. So were legislators Tanya Chan and Shiu Ka-chun, and former core members of the Hong Kong Federation of Students Eason Chung Yiu-wah and Tommy Cheung Sau-yin.
They are required to turn up at police headquarters in Wan Chai, where they are expected to face arrest and charge.
Shiu said the government was using “political cleansing” to reconcile society.
“On one hand it was said reconciliation was what we need, and that parties across the political spectrum and [different] camps should come together in the coming four or five years,” he said. “But it turns out the method to reconcile is by way of political cleansing.”
Tanya Chan called it a “poisoned chalice” designed by Leung for Lam, who is now left with a more difficult task despite her peacemaking mantra.
In a statement, pro-democracy group Demosisto highlighted the timing of the calls, noting that they came “immediately after Carrie Lam’s victory”.
Lam had been dubbed “CY 2.0” – a reference to the current chief executive’s initials – as people feared she would continue Leung’s hardline approach to social dissent.
In 2014, protesters took part in an unprecedented sit-in to block major thoroughfares in three of the city’s major districts – Admiralty, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay – to voice discontent at a restrictive election framework Beijing proposed for Hong Kong on August 31 that year.
More than 1,000 people were arrested during the protests, which were eventually cleared by police. Of those, 216 have already been dealt with by the courts.
Chan Kin-man confirmed police called him on Monday morning and told him he faced a public nuisance charge. He said he will go to court on Thursday.
Chan said he, Chu and Tai had expected the prosecution, but also noted the timing.
“The prosecution has come a day after the CE election. Obviously the government didn’t want to affect the election and the campaigning,” Chan, a sociology professor, said.
But Lee said he suspected Leung had timed the prosecutions to embarrass Lam.
“Leung doesn’t believe in the need to mend the social rift,” the veteran Democratic Party member said. “He seems to be setting the tone and wanting Lam to follow his hardline approach.”
In response to the news, Lam said she had “no knowledge” of whether the action was delayed to embarrass her, or for any other reason.
“This is the action of the current administration,” she said.
She added: “Prosecution actions are undertaken independently by the Department of Justice under the Basic Law.
“[While] I want to unite society and bridge the divide that had been causing us concern, any such action should not compromise the rule of law in Hong Kong.”
Tai confirmed he was also called on Monday morning. He said he was seeking legal advice.
Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung told the Legislative Council last month that police had directed 287 cases to his department for legal advice by the end of last August, including for those who might have led the movement. He said his department had answered all the requests by the end of last year.
Hong Kong independence targeted by Beijing: Leung Chun-ying carries out orders from Xi Jinping — “Very simply put – and very forcefully – Xi said there is no room whatsoever for Hong Kong independence.”