Much like conditions here in the United States, Hong Kong has been dealing with the Coronavirus by having people mostly remain at home and practice social distancing protocols. This has actually produced a beneficial side effect for Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam since there are far fewer protesters gathering in the streets to make life uncomfortable for her. But this weekend, she decided to follow the old rule about never letting a perfectly good crisis go to waste and took things a step further. With everyone isolated at home instead of massing in large rowdy crowds, it was clearly the perfect time to send the cops to the homes of some of the protest leaders and lock them up. (Associated Press)

Hong Kong police arrested at least 14 veteran pro-democracy lawmakers, activists and a media tycoon on Saturday on charges of joining unlawful protests last year calling for reforms.

Among those arrested were 81-year-old activist and former lawmaker Martin Lee and democracy advocates Albert Ho, Lee Cheuk-yan and Au Nok-hin.

Police also arrested media tycoon Jimmy Lai, who founded the local newspaper Apple Daily.

In addition to those four, former Democratic legislator Yeung Sum and Raphael Wong, chairman of the League of Social Democrats, were also taken into custody. All of them were charged with taking part in “unauthorized protests” last year spanning from August to October.

This isn’t the first time that Lam has sent the police out to jail democracy advocates. Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow, two student leaders of the Umbrella Movement protests of 2014, were arrested last August. While there was never any official confirmation, it was widely reported that those arrests came about via direct orders from the CCP.

This incident should serve as an unsubtle reminder that the level of autonomy granted to Hong Kong by the CCP is largely an illusion. Beijing tolerates a limited amount of free speech and capitalism in Hong Kong, but only so long as they don’t see the residents there as being critical of the central Chinese government or flaunting their rules about social behavior too flagrantly. And when they do, retribution is frequently swift and severe.

The government of Hong Kong is technically elected by the people, but those elections are always closely supervised by Beijing. If they don’t like the results, they will simply remove the winners from office on some trumped-up charge and replace them with someone more amenable to the communist agenda. That’s not just some imaginary threat because they’ve already done it before. In 2016, two pro-democracy candidates were voted into the legislature but they were arrested and their victories were nullified before they could even be sworn in. They were then replaced by two people who were approved by the CCP.

We’ve expressed concerns here before about whether or not China would send their troops into Hong Kong to quash the protests, but this incident shows that they probably don’t need to. As long as Beijing has Carrie Lam to do their bidding and they remain in control of the police and the courts, the “elected” government of Hong Kong can keep everyone in line. And as we saw this weekend, if anyone gets too mouthy they’ll wind up being relocated to less comfortable quarters, even in the middle of a pandemic.