Nine pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong say police have told them they will be charged over the 2014 protests, a day after new leader Carrie Lam vowed to heal divisions in the territory.
The nine include the three organisers of Occupy Central, which evolved into the “umbrella” protest mass movement.
The group are expected to be charged with creating a public nuisance.
Ms Lam, who was chosen to lead the territory on Sunday, said the law had to be respected.
“I made it very clear that I want to unite society and bridge the divide that has been causing us concern,” she said. “But all these actions should not compromise the rule of law in Hong Kong.
She said prosecution actions were “undertaken independently by the Department of Justice (DOJ)”.
In a statement, the DOJ said its decision to act was based “purely on legal considerations”. It said it handled all its work in an “apolitical manner and free from any interference”. Speculation that Ms Lam played a role in the move against the activists was “utterly untrue”, it added.
Ms Lam, 59, was Beijing’s choice to lead the territory. She was chosen to replace outgoing leader CY Leung by a 1,200-member, mostly pro-Beijing, committee.
Pro-democracy activists have been campaigning for years for Hong Kong people to have the right to elect their own leader. In 2014, Beijing said it would allow direct elections but only from a list of pre-approved candidates.
The offer, which was later voted down by pro-democracy legislators, sparked the mass protests that shut down key parts of the city for several weeks.
Three of the nine people who have been told they will be charged – Benny Tai, Reverend Chu Yiu-ming and Dr Chan Kin-man – are the co-founders of the movement from which the protests snowballed.
The other six include lawmakers and members of the Hong Kong Federation of Students.
‘Tougher policies?’ – By Juliana Liu, BBC News, Hong Kong
It is not clear why the Hong Kong authorities have waited so long to arrest and charge the leaders of the civil disobedience movement.
But coming as it did, more than two years after the end of the 2014 protests, the move is likely to inflame tension further.
Speculation has immediately turned to Carrie Lam, the chief executive-elect. The fear among activists is that these charges are a harbinger of tougher policies to come in her administration.
But the Department of Justice has come out with a strong statement saying it acted independently.
A small number of people were charged soon after the protests. The DOJ did not say why action against this group had taken so long, but stated: “As in other criminal cases, the DoJ generally endeavours to handle cases as soon as possible.”
The activists say they have been asked to report to police headquarters to be charged.
Dr Chan said the authorities were sending a “strong” message.
“Carrie Lam said she wanted to mend the society, but the message we got today is prosecution. I don’t see how the society’s cracks can be mended,” he told Reuters news agency.
Ms Lam formally takes over on 1 July, the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover. Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to visit the territory to mark its return from British rule – a move likely to spark large protests.