Hong Kong police arrested six people Wednesday on charges of violating a colonial-era sedition law by allegedly causing a “nuisance” at court hearings in December and January.
The police did not release the names of the individuals, only identifying them as four men and two women with ages ranging from 32 to 67.
“The arrested persons are suspected of having purposely caused nuisance during their attendance for hearing in different courts,” the Hong Kong Police Force said in a statement.
The six are being detained for further investigation, the police said. A conviction carries a prison sentence of two years.
Local media reported that the arrested included Leo Tang, former vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, and Siew Yun-long, a citizen journalist.
The trade union group had operated in Hong Kong for more than three decades and played a central role in the pro-democracy movement that swept through the semi-autonomous city in 2019.
However, it disbanded in September under pressure from a sweeping national security law imposed by Beijing that has been used to target activists, opposition politicians, independent media and civil society organizations.
Beijing bypassed the Hong Kong legislature to enact the law in July 2020, claiming it was necessary to restore order to a city that had been roiled by protests.
The arrests Wednesday were carried out under an older law against sedition that has been on the books since Hong Kong was a British colony and until recently had not been used for decades.
Authorities have started leveling sedition charges with increasing frequency over the past several months, however, with targets ranging from journalists at pro-democracy media outlets to pop singer Tommy Yuen, who posted comments on social media criticizing the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A total of 183 people have been arrested for alleged national security crimes, including sedition, since July 2020, according to data collected by the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society.
“The vast majority of arrests targeted activities that would be considered peaceful and constitutionally-protected exercise of basic political and civil rights in other jurisdictions,” the Center wrote on its ChinaFile site. “In fact, such activities would have been protected in Hong Kong itself prior to the [national security law’s] enactment in July 2020.”
In 2020, the United States sanctioned eleven officials for “undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy and restricting the freedom of expression or assembly of the citizens” in response to the security law.