HONG KONG: Hong Kong police on Friday seized computers at the office of a prominent opinion pollster that was helping the city’s pro-democracy opposition to conduct a primary election planned for the weekend.
The move came days after China imposed a sweeping new national security law on the financial hub after months of civil unrest last year.
Voters were due to cast their ballots in Saturday’s primary to select opposition candidates for election to the city’s legislative council in September.
Police claimed that they were responding to a report that computers belonging to the Public Opinion Research Institute (Pori) had been hacked, resulting in an unlawful leak of personal information.
But former pro-democracy lawmaker Au Nok-hin, who was helping to organise the weekend vote, said he believed police were attempting to interfere with the workings of the city’s political opposition.
“The incident is very likely related to the primaries and meant to create a deterrent effect,” he said in a statement.
Chung Kim-wah, a scientist working with Pori, said that officers had a warrant demanding the seizure of all computers.
He told AFP that the timing of the raid was “highly coincidental” but said the seizure would not affect Saturday’s vote.
The independent pollster has issued a number of political surveys gauging public opinion on the popularity of city officials and police.
Public trust in both has plummeted since the months of occasionally violent political protests that rocked Hong Kong last year, prompted by a now-shelved bill that would have allowed extraditions to authoritarian mainland China.
The latest poll from Pori released Friday found that 61% of respondents believed that Hong Kong was no longer a “free city” since the introduction of the national security law last week.
Opponents say the legislation – which sets out new penalties for “subversion” and other offences – undermines the liberties guaranteed to the city in a 50-year agreement signed when Britain handed back control of the city to China in 1997.