In an apparent coincidence, on the same day, Reuters reported that Hong Kong judges were increasingly concerned over the pressure exerted by Beijing on the legal system. These concerns are also linked to the upcoming retirement in early 2021 of the Chief Justice, Geoffrey Ma, a widely respected liberal who is expected to be replaced by Andrew Cheung, understood to be more sympathetic to Beijing. Subsequently, Geoffrey Ma issued a formal denial of the allegations in the Reuters report.
On April 18, 15 prominent pro-democracy figures were arrested at their homes and released on bail, on charges of participating in unauthorized demonstrations during the anti-extradition movement. As the prosecution comes directly under the Department of Justice and seems less and less insulated from political considerations, these arrests were not unexpected, but the choice of figures and dramatic staging of the arrests indicate an attempt to intimidate the opposition. Among them were historic leaders of the pro-democracy camp such as Martin Lee and Margaret Ng, as well as younger political figures; several of them had been singled out by Beijing for seeking political support in the United States or Europe.
The debate on Beijing's interventions then escalated sharply. Accused of dereliction of duty, Dennis Kwok, echoed by others, pointed out that according to Article 22 of the Basic Law, no department of the Central Government is supposed to "intervene" in Hong Kong's internal political affairs (with the exception of military or diplomatic matters which are not within Hong Kong’s purview). The Liaison Office then responded by arguing that it is not a "department" of the central government, but that it represents the central government itself in ensuring the "supervision" of Hong Kong and the smooth running of the "one country, two systems" formula. The Hong Kong government, apparently caught unprepared, issued three successive press releases on April 19 (the last one late on Sunday night), contradicting itself on the status of the Liaison Office, and the question of whether it is governed by Article 22. It is noteworthy that Article 22 is cited in the statutes of the CLO presented to LegCo in 2000, establishing its status under Hong Kong law, but not in the corresponding decision of the State Council under Chinese law.
The Hong Kong Bar Association and pro-democracy lawyers such as Johannes Chan subsequently condemned what they viewed as an arbitrary interpretation of the Basic Law, with serious consequences for Hong Kong's autonomous status. On the other hand, pro-Beijing personalities such as the former Chief Executive C.Y. Leung or the legal scholar Albert Chen - member of the Basic Law Committee - pointed out that, according to Article 12 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong is a special administrative region directly under the central government, and criticising the "constitutional crisis" caused by the opposition in LegCo. Finally, on April 21, the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Offices of the State Council in Beijing issued three further statements: one of them to defend the right of supervision over Hong Kong, a second one to support the Hong Kong police and the arrests conducted on April 18 (singling out Martin Lee and Jimmy Lai for meeting with US officials) and a third one to once again accuse Dennis Kwok of breach of oath.