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Hong Kong Democracy Activists Arrested


Hong Kong officials are cracking down on the protest movement there in a new way. Three prominent democracy activists were put under arrest earlier today. The most notable among them is 22-year-old Joshua Wong. He was walking to a subway station Friday morning when he was, quote, "forcefully pushed into a private minivan on the street in broad daylight." That's according to Demosisto; it's the youth activist group Wong leads. The arrests come ahead of more pro-democracy protests that had been planned for the weekend. For more, we've got NPR's Emily Feng with us from Hong Kong.

Can you just start by telling us more about these three democracy activists who've been arrested?

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Well, besides Joshua Wong, there was Andy Chan, who was detained Thursday night, and Agnes Chow, who is also a member of Demosisto. They're all in their 20s. And they're representative of this new generation of young activists. Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow have been released from police custody on bail. So they are out now. But these three were perceived as leaders of the current protests in Hong Kong, which are now in their fourth month. That's not true.

The protests going on now - they're a leaderless movement. But the three had been leaders in a previous pro-democracy movement called the Umbrella Movement about five years ago, which was this peaceful occupation of Hong Kong's central business district that ended after 79 days. But their key demand from 2014 - that Hongkongers be able to directly elect their leader - is one of the demands now being repeated in the current protests.

MARTIN: Right. So tell us more about the timing of this because these protests have been going on in Hong Kong for more than four months. Why arrest these democracy protesters now?

FENG: This weekend is significant. It's the fifth anniversary of Beijing's decision to maintain control over how Hong Kong's leader is chosen. And that decision was the event that sparked the 2014 Umbrella Movement.

So to commemorate the anniversary, organizers had planned a big march for this Saturday, but Hong Kong police then denied organizers permission. And so they canceled the protests earlier today. On top of the Saturday march, there are also mass sit-ins and strikes that are being organized for Monday and Tuesday, which is when the university semester begins. And so students are now getting involved.

So again, the arrest of these three activists today is part of a wave of coordinated arrests across the city of people and lawmakers who had participated in protests. And they mark a further escalation from the leadership of Hong Kong, which is chosen by Beijing, to stop the protests.

MARTIN: So two of these protesters, as you know, are now out on bail. Does that mean the protest is going to go on that's scheduled for Saturday?

FENG: Even before they were released on bail, protesters and Demosisto organizers were saying that protests were going to go ahead anyways on Saturday. People, if anything, are even more upset because of the mass arrests across the city today. And again, strikes at universities and across many, many different sectors are still planned for Monday and Tuesday.

Demosisto today held a press conference in front of Hong Kong's government offices, and they were defiant. Here's a clip of them.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting in foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting in foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).

FENG: They're chanting in protest of what they call police overreach and terror. And they're encouraging the people to come out this weekend despite the ban on the protests and concern that there are more arrests coming.

Here's Isaac Cheng, who's a vice chairman of Demosisto.

ISAAC CHENG: I think when the government go hard, we go hard. We ask the government, please respond to the five demands as soon as possible; otherwise, the people may be using some more radical ways or more hard way to respond to the - response of the government.

FENG: They're demanding that Hong Kong's appointed leader pay attention to their demands for true democratic elections, but so far, she's refused or ignored all of them.

MARTIN: NPR's Emily Feng in Hong Kong. Thanks, Emily.

FENG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emily Feng is NPR's Beijing correspondent.