EXPLAINER: How a primary got Hong Kong activists in trouble

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A supporter raises a British flag as supporters queue up outside a court to try get in for a hearing in Hong Kong Monday, March 1, 2021. People gathered outside the court Monday to show support for 47 activists who were detained over the weekend under a new national security law that was imposed on the city by Beijing last year. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

HONG KONG – Hong Kong democracy supporters are being locked up in jail, charged with being a threat to national security.

Their arrests come under a new security law imposed on the semi-autonomous Chinese territory by Beijing that has largely silenced dissent in Hong Kong. China says the city needs stability after months of anti-government protests in 2019. Those now facing charges held a primary election for legislators picked through one of the last vestiges of direct democracy in Hong Kong.

Some key questions about the arrests:

HOW CAN A PRIMARY ELECTION THREATEN NATIONAL SECURITY?

Authorities say the primary was part of a plan to paralyze the government and undermine state power. The security law criminalizes attempts to subvert government, as well as secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers.

As evidence, police pointed to an opinion piece, “10 steps to mutual destruction,” that was published in the Apple Daily, a newspaper supportive of the democracy movement.

Authored by Benny Tai, a veteran activist and former law professor, it mapped out a strategy that began with winning a legislative majority. Following that, opposition legislators would intensify protests, block the budget twice to force Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to resign and back international sanctions against China’s ruling Communist Party.

The primary was an attempt to galvanize public support for pro-democracy candidates, though it's unclear whether all the candidates agreed with Tai's manifesto.