Opposition activists in Hong Kong on Wednesday vowed to keep up the political fight against a draconian security law imposed on the city by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, which they blamed for Washington's revoking of the city's special status.
The group of mostly young activists were among the winners of the democratic primaries that saw more than 600,000 people turn out to vote last weekend in spite of official warnings that it could be in breach of the new law.
Would-be candidate Lester Shum, a former student leader in the 2014 pro-democracy movement, called on the entire pro-democracy camp, including lawmakers and activists, to stand together in this election campaign.
"I hope that the whole democratic camp will unite and meet the expectations of voters," Shum told RFA. "In the fight against totalitarianism, we will fight side-by-side, and stand or fall together."
"Now that the results of [the primaries] are out, we hope that we will be able to put our differences aside," he said.
Many of the candidates who won in the primaries are younger activists, and the group of 16 who spoke to journalists on Wednesday are calling themselves the "pro-protest faction."
But their eventual candidacy in the elections is far from certain. Election officials have already disqualified a number of prominent former protest leaders, saying their political views were in breach of the city's mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
Now, the national security law has provided the government with another set of criteria with which to target opposition activists for disqualification and possible prosecution.
Hong Kong and Chinese officials have issued a string of statements in recent days saying the primaries, the goal of which is to seek candidates to ensure more than 35 seats in September's Legislative Council (LegCo) elections, are illegal.
The Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office (HKMAO) of China's cabinet, the State Council, said the unofficial poll was a "flagrant challenge" to the law, accusing pro-democracy politicians of colluding with foreign forces to overthrow the Hong Kong government.
And there are other, less obvious dangers to life as an opposition activist in Hong Kong.
Pro-democracy campaigner steps down
Prominent pro-democracy politician Au Nok-hin, who served in LegCo before being unseated in a by-election, announced on Wednesday he would be stepping down from the opposition campaign.
Au had been one of the coordinators of the primaries, but said in a statement on Facebook that he has resigned from his duties following the statement from HKMAO.
"I hereby withdraw 35+ primary election duties immediately due to the accusation from the Liaison Office and Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office recently," Au wrote, adding that recent official statements were "creating risk of personal safety."
"Withdrawal is the only choice [I have, if I am to] protect myself and others," he said.
Executive councilor Ronny Tong refused to be drawn on Wednesday when asked about the consequences for those who had taken part in the primaries.
"It is up to the courts to decide whether or not the law has been broken, but at present I can only say that for the time being, there is no real evidence for all elements that [the primaries did indeed] violate the national security law," Tong said.
The most important thing is whether there has been force or coercion or illegal methods used," he said. "Maybe someone campaigning for LegCo on a platform of opposing certain bills doesn't constitute illegal behavior in itself."
But he backed down from his comments later in the day, saying that Hong Kong still enjoys "freedom and the rule of law," and that his opinions couldn't replace a court decision.
'Stop talking nonsense'
Primary winner Fergus Leung, who is among the 16-strong "pro-protest" faction, called on Beijing to make public evidence of the sorts of charges that could be brought against participants in the primaries.
"If the government has any substantial evidence, we hope it will lay it out showing how the organizers, the candidates, or the voting public who took part in the primaries broke the law, and which provisions of those laws," Leung said.
"I call on them either to start enforcing it immediately, or to stop talking nonsense," he said.
Meanwhile, police arrested Democratic Party vice-chairman Lo Kin-hei on Wednesday morning on charges of "unlawful assembly" in relation to the siege of the Polytechnic University (PolyU) on Nov. 18, 2019, government broadcaster RTHK reported.
Lo, who was arrested during a mass arrest of local people more than 500 meters away from the PolyU campus, has been released on bail and will appear in court in August.
The Democratic Party said the arrest was politically motivated and that the charges against him were "groundless," the report said.
Reported by Man Hoi-tsan for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Gao Feng for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.