Hong Kong police arrested 53 people in raids on democracy activists on Wednesday in the biggest crackdown since China last year imposed a new security law which rights activists say is aimed at eliminating dissent.

About 1,000 police took part in the raids. The arrests were linked to last year’s unofficial vote to choose opposition candidates in city elections, which authorities said was part of a plan to overthrow the government.

The arrests come as authorities continue a crackdown on dissent under a new controversial security law imposed by Beijing. The law aims to tackle secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, with punishments of up to life in prison.

Hong Kong Secretary for Security John Lee said those arrested had planned to cause “serious damage” to society and that authorities would not tolerate subversive acts. Beijing’s top representative office in Hong Kong said in a statement it firmly supported the arrests.

Police did not name those arrested, but their identities were revealed by their social media accounts and their organisations. They included former lawmakers, activists and people involved in organising the 2020 primaries, among them James To, Lam Cheuk-ting, Benny Tai and Lester Shum.

Since its imposition, leading activists such as media tycoon Jimmy Lai have been arrested, some democratic lawmakers have been disqualified, activists have fled into exile and protest slogans and songs have been declared illegal.


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