Prominent Hong Kong democracy activists were arrested Friday in a dragnet that came as protesters planned to rally this weekend in defiance of a police ban.
Hong Kong has been locked in three months of political crisis, with increasingly violent clashes between police and protesters that have prompted an escalating public relations campaign from Beijing.
Protesters planned yet another mass rally on Saturday — the fifth anniversary of Beijing’s rejection of a call for universal suffrage in the semi-autonomous city, a decision that sparked the 79-day Umbrella Movement in 2014.
Two of that movement’s leaders, Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow — both are well-known among the city’s youth — were arrested on Friday, their party said.
Their arrests came just hours after the reported detention at Hong Kong’s airport of a vocal independence campaigner.
“Our secretary-general @joshuawongcf was just arrested this morning at roughly 7:30,” the party Demosisto tweeted.
The 22-year-old “was forcefully pushed into a private minivan on the street in broad daylight. Our lawyers following the case now,” it said.
Agnes Chow, also 22, was arrested at her home, Demosisto said, adding “we do not yet know what charges they are facing.”
Hong Kong Police said they had arrested two 22-year-olds, naming them only as Wong and Chow, on suspicion of “inciting others to take part in unauthorised assembly” among other charges.
More than 850 people have been arrested in connection with protests since June, including prominent independence campaigner Andy Chan who was detained by police at Hong Kong airport on Thursday night.
Chan was stopped while trying to board a flight to Japan, the Hong Kong Free Press website reported, which cited a police spokesman saying he was suspected of rioting and assaulting an officer.
Chan’s small independence party was outlawed last year on the grounds it posed a national security threat, the first such ban since the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
The party numbers only a few dozen members, but Beijing sees calls for independence as an absolute red line.
The arrests come as Hong Kong’s crisis-hit government scrambles to find an appropriate response to the unprecedented pro-democracy protests, which have by turns seen millions march, closed the airport and left city streets strewn with bricks and shrouded in tear gas.
The protests started as a kickback against a bill allowing extraditions to mainland China, but quickly billowed out into wider calls for democracy and police accountability.