Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong was arrested on Friday on suspicion of organizing illegal protests as authorities intensify a clampdown on unrest that has plunged the city into its biggest political crisis in more than two decades.
Wong, the icon of pro-democracy demonstrations five years ago that foreshadowed the latest turbulence, is the highest-profile arrest since protests escalated in mid-June over fears China was exerting greater control over the city.
Two other prominent activists, Andy Chan and Agnes Chow, have also been detained.
The bespectacled Wong, who was 17 when he became the face of the student-led Umbrella Movement, has not been a prominent figure in current protests which have no identifiable leaders.
He was released from jail in June after serving a five-week term for contempt of court.
Police said Wong and Chow, both 22, were arrested on Friday on suspicion of “organizing unauthorized assembly” and “knowingly participating in unauthorized assembly.”
Chan, a founder of the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party that was banned last September, was arrested at Hong Kong’s international airport on Thursday on suspicion of “participating in riots” and “attacking police” during a protest on July 13, police said.
Wong’s political party Demosisto, which advocates for greater democracy in Hong Kong, said the arrests were an attempt to scapegoat individuals in a movement that has built momentum without public figureheads.
“The arrests were apparently a political operation that makes ‘movement leaders’ named by the central government,” Demosisto said on its social media page.
“It will only make the government misjudge the public, leading to a deadly situation that is more difficult to resolve.”
Police have refused permission for a pro-democracy march on Saturday and an appeal by organizers to allow the demonstration to proceed was turned down on Friday.
The Civil Human Rights Front, the organizer of previous mass protests, said it would comply with the order and cancel the march but would plan more demonstrations.
More than three months of unrest in Hong Kong was sparked by anger over a now-suspended extradition bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial in Communist Party-controlled courts.
It has evolved into calls for greater democracy under the “one country, two systems” formula, which guarantees freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland that include an independent judiciary, under which Hong Kong has been ruled since 1997.
Protesters are riled by perceived interference by China that undermines the “one country, two systems” arrangement.
Reuters exclusively reported on Friday that Lam previously requested Beijing’s approval for a plan to ease tensions, evidence of the extent to which China is controlling the Hong Kong government’s response to the unrest.