Police in Hong Kong have charged 47 activists with “subversion”, in the most sweeping use yet of the territory’s controversial security law.
The 47, among a group of 55 arrested in dawn raids last month, were told to report to police stations for detention ahead of court appearances on Monday, says the BBC.
Beijing enforced the law criminalising “subversive” acts last year, saying it was needed to bring stability but critics say it has silenced dissent and stripped Hong Kong of its autonomy.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab condemned the move as “deeply disturbing” and said it showed how the law was being used to “eliminate political dissent”.
Those ordered to report to the police are pro-democracy activists who had helped run an unofficial “primary” election last June to pick opposition candidates for 2020 legislative elections, which were then postponed.
Beijing and Hong Kong officials say the primary was an attempt to overthrow the government.
The 39 men and eight women, aged between 23 and 64, are scheduled to appear before West Kowloon Magistracy on Monday.
They are some of the territory’s best-known democracy campaigners and include veterans such as Benny Tai and Leung Kwok-hung, and younger protesters like Gwyneth Ho, Sam Cheung and Lester Shum.
Jimmy Sham, 33, a key organiser of the 2019 protests, remained defiant as he went to the police station.
“Democracy is never a gift from heaven. It must be earned by many with strong will,” he said. “We will remain strong and fight for what we want.”
Before turning herself in, Gwyneth Ho posted: “I hope everyone can find their road to peace of mind and then press forward with indomitable will.”
Bail is unlikely and the charges carry a maximum term of life imprisonment.
About 100 people have so far been arrested under the security law, including prominent China critic and media tycoon Jimmy Lai, who was denied bail and is in detention awaiting trial.
Trials can be held in secret and without a jury, and cases can be taken over by the mainland authorities.