More than 600,000 people took part in the vote over the weekend, designed to narrow down the number of pro-democracy candidates in September elections to the city's legislature. Similar efforts have been tried in previous years, but this was the most organized yet, as the opposition aims to seize a historic majority in spite of huge obstacles, not least the new security law.
Imposed by Beijing on the city on July 1, the legislation criminalizes secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces. Officials have insisted it will only apply to a tiny handful of Hong Kongers, as critics pointed to its broad scope and ill-defined offenses as reason for alarm.
In a statement late Monday night, the Liaison Office, Beijing's top representative to Hong Kong, appeared to confirm those fears, saying the primary election contravened the law and raising the possibility hundreds of thousands of people were now implicated in an offense.
"With the support of external forces, opposition groups and leaders have deliberately devised plans to hold this so-called 'primary election,' which is a serious provocation to the current electoral system and caused serious damage to the fairness and justice of the Legislative Council elections," the Liaison Office said.
The statement came after the Hong Kong government said it was "conducting an in-depth investigation" into the primary, and would "immediately refer the case to relevant law enforcement agencies" if there was any illegal activity.
One chief complaint of the government was organizers' stated goal of achieving a 35-seat parliamentary majority, allowing the opposition to block legislation and potentially force the resignation of Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
"If this so-called primary election's purpose is to achieve the ultimate goal of delivering what they called '35-plus' with the objective of objecting or resisting every policy initiative of the HKSAR government, it may fall into the category of subverting the state power -- one of the four types of offenses under the national security law," Lam said Monday.
The Liaison Office statement went further, accusing Benny Tai, the onetime leader of the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement and organizer of the primary, of scheming to "seize the governance of Hong Kong and stage a 'color revolution'."
"Who instructed (Tai) to openly manipulate the election in so high-profile a manner? Who gave him such confidence?" the statement added, without providing any evidence or suggestion of who Tai was supposed to have colluded with.
Tai, who could not immediately be reached for comment, could face at least 10 years and up to life imprisonment if found guilty under the security law of colluding with a foreign power in "rigging or undermining an election."
Nor might he be the only person punished. Antony Dapiran, a Hong Kong-based lawyer and author of "City on Fire: The fight for Hong Kong," predicted that after Beijing's statement declaring the primary illegal, the gove