HONG KONG — The Hong Kong police raided the office of an independent polling institute on Friday, on the eve of a primary vote for the city’s pro-democracy camp, raising concerns of official interference in a campaign for the local legislature.
The police action followed Beijing’s imposition of a sweeping security law in the city, which has heightened fears that Hong Kong, a semiautonomous Chinese city, was at risk of losing many of its cherished freedoms and civil liberties.
The polling organization, the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute, planned to work with the pro-democracy camp’s primary on Saturday and Sunday, a vote that is intended to help determine candidates for a Legislative Council election in September.
The police said that officers belonging to the Cyber Security and Technology Crime unit searched an office in the Wong Chuk Hang neighborhood on Friday afternoon on the suspicion that computers at the institute had been hacked, leading to a leak of personal information.
“The police received reports in recent days and suspect that the information of some residents, including police officers, is being leaked,” a police representative said in a statement. “It may be related to the relevant organization’s computer systems being attacked by unlawful means.” She added that no arrests were made in the operation.
Leung Kai Chi, an honorary head of one of the institute’s research projects, said that police officers with a search warrant had entered offices and threatened to confiscate computers containing polling data. The institute has been subject to cyberattacks this week, but had managed to keep hackers at bay before its offices were searched, Mr. Leung said.
“I am very worried,” Mr. Leung said in a phone interview. “There are a lot of things in the computers.”
Au Nok-hin, a former pro-democracy lawmaker who was helping organize the primaries, said on Twitter that the raid was “very likely related to the primary vote, to create a threatening effect.”
The institute’s practice is to store data for half a year, Mr. Leung said, and not all data may have been encrypted. The phone numbers of respondents are connected to questions about their political satisfaction.
Hours before the raid, the independent polling institute released results to the question. “Is Hong Kong still a free city?” Among the respondents, 61 percent said that it no longer was, while 32 percent said that it was, according to results released Friday afternoon.
The Hong Kong government has been sharply critical of the pro-democracy camp’s primary. Erick Tsang, the secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs, told The Oriental Daily News, a pro-Beijing newspaper, in an interview published Thursday, that the authorities were investigating complaints that the primary might violate electoral law and the new national security law.
The government has also warned district council members against using their offices to hold primary votes. Opposition district council candidates won a sweeping victory in November, a sign that the demands of a monthslong pro-democracy protest movement resonated with voters. The opposition camp has said it hopes to capture at least half the legislature’s 70 seats in September, but has acknowledged that its candidates could face widespread disqualifications before the vote.
Benny Tai, a law professor who also helped organize the primary, wrote on Facebook that residents should resist intimidation efforts by voting.
“One should not be intimidated or withdraw, but insist on living in reality,” wrote Mr. Tai, who was imprisoned over his role as a leader pro-democracy protests known as the Umbrella Movement in 2014.
“As long as there are many people who persist on using their votes to reject lies, we can still see flickers of light in dark times and continue the spirit of resistance,” he added.
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