(Hong Kong) Several figures of the Hong Kong movement for democratic reforms, including Joshua Wong and three deputies, were arrested on Friday, a crackdown by associations of Chinese attempts to muzzle opposition after the ban on a major Saturday demonstration.
Hong Kong has been going through its worst crisis for nearly three months since it was handed over to China in 1997, with almost daily demonstrations and actions that have sometimes degenerated.
A massive new rally was scheduled for Saturday on the fifth anniversary of Beijing's refusal to hold universal suffrage elections in the semi-autonomous region, triggering the 2014 "Umbrella Movement", marked by 79 days of occupation of the financial and political heart of Hong Kong.
But after confirmation of the ban on the rally, the organizers on Friday withdrew their call to demonstrate not to throw oil on the fire. Other initiatives, however, are preparing.
Two prominent representatives of the Umbrella Movement, Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow, aged 22 and very popular in the current protest movement, were arrested on Friday at dawn, in particular for "inciting participate in an unauthorized gathering ".
Both were charged in the afternoon and released on bail.
"We will continue the fight, we will not surrender," Wong promised outside the court, while denouncing the "chilling effect" of the arrests of opponents.
The authorities "seek to create the" White Terror "" to dissuade people from participating in the social and democratic movement, he added, using an expression denoting Beijing's attempts to divide the Hong Kong protesters.
The head of European diplomacy Federica Mogherini for her part judged the situation in Hong Kong "extremely worrying", calling for respect for the freedom to demonstrate.
A few hours earlier, another activist, Andy Chan, the founder of the National Party (HKNP), a tiny pro-independence group that had been banned by the authorities in 2018, was arrested at the airport.
A fourth protester, Rick Hui, a Sha Tin neighborhood council member, was also arrested on Friday, along with Althea Suen, who became known in the student movement.
And for the first time since the beginning of the mobilization in June, deputies were also arrested.
The arrest of one of them, Cheng Chung-tai, was announced by his Civic Passion movement on his website.
The police, meanwhile, reported the arrest of a 35-year-old man, only identifying him as "Cheng" and stating that he was being prosecuted for "conspiracy to cause criminal damage". , in connection with the sack of Parliament in July.
Two other pro-democracy parliamentarians, Au Nok-hin and Jeremy Tam, were later arrested for obstructing police, Civic Passion said.
More than 900 people have been arrested since the beginning of the protest, which was the result of the rejection of a bill that would authorize extraditions to China.
The movement has since broadened considerably its demands, all of which refer to the denunciation of a retreat of freedoms and the growing interference of China in the affairs of the semi-autonomous region, in violation of the principle "One country, Two systems Which had presided over the retrocession.
Amnesty International blasted "this ridiculous crackdown at dawn" and condemned the arrests of Mr. Wong and Mr.me Chow, which are "outrageous attacks on freedom of expression and assembly" and "tactics to sow fear straight out of Chinese textbooks."
The police, however, denied wanting to undermine the weekend's protests. "It's totally wrong," police spokesman John Tse told reporters.
The Hong Kong executive is struggling to respond to this unprecedented move. And it is on the grounds of security that the police decided to ban the Saturday demonstration, a radical step that could unleash new clashes with radical militants ready to fight.
The paradox is that Saturday's protest was convened by the Civilian Human Rights Front (FCHR), a non-violent organization that has been behind the biggest rallies in recent months. In particular that of August 18 which had gathered 1.7 million people according to the organizers, without any overflow.
The Front was dismissed in its appeal against the ban, one of its leaders, Bonnie Leung, said that the FCHR had "no option but to cancel the event tomorrow."
But other initiatives are about to emerge, some offering a soccer game, a mass shopping outing or an impromptu religious gathering …
It is likely that the call to measure of the FCHR is not heard by the most radical group, mostly made up of very young students. And the risk of new violence is real.
"The police believe that there are leaders in the movement and that its decision to ban the demonstration will stop us," told AFP on condition of anonymity a protester calling himself Kelly.
"We are our own leaders and we will continue to go out (on the street). That's what the government does not understand. "