Hong Kong’s pro-democracy body rejects order to reveal member details
HONG KONG — The organizer of Hong Kong’s annual commemoration of China’s Tiananmen Square crackdown on Sunday rejected a police demand to hand over information on its members and finances and revealed plans to hold a meeting this month to vote on disbanding.
The Hong Kong police warned the organization will have to face the law and a spokesman for the security bureau, which oversees the police, urged the group to “turn back before it is too late.”
Under the law, those who fail to submit the required documents face a maximum penalty of 100,000 Hong Kong dollars ($12,853) and six months imprisonment. Those who submit fraudulent, inaccurate or incomplete documents face the same amount of fine and two years of imprisonment.
The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China had till Tuesday to turn over the information. It is under investigation by the national security section of the local police, alleged to be a “foreign or Taiwan agent” colluding with external forces.
Collusion with foreign forces is one of the four crimes – along with separatism, subversion, and terrorism — under the national security law imposed by Beijing last June, which is punishable by up to life imprisonment.
The police sent letters on Aug. 25 to all seven standing committee members of the alliance, including to two in prison. They were ordered to furnish information on the group’s links with specific overseas individuals and organizations, such as the Washington-based National Democratic Institute.
The police also demanded the submission of personal data on all alliance members, minutes of board meetings, financial records and information on sources of funding, tracing back to the group’s inception in May 1989.
The group “will not hand in any information to the national security,” Chow Hang-tung, vice chairwoman of the alliance, told a press conference.
Chow, a barrister herself, said the police has not given any evidences of the Alliance being a foreign agent.
The police is “arbitrarily labelling any civil organization as foreign agents, trying to collect all sorts of information from civil society and to use them to construct stories of conspiracy to put civil society in fear,” she said. The alliance has never been an agent for any foreign forces and it is an “agent of Hong Kong people’s conscience.”
She said it was quite normal for organizations in Hong Kong to have external relations given the city’s international status.
The alliance, which is a pro-democracy group, is best known for holding an annual candlelight vigil in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park to commemorate those who died in the June 4, 1989 crackdown in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. This year, for the second time in a row, the police banned the event, citing the pandemic.
The group has been under severe pressure already, with its Chairman Lee Cheuk-yan and Vice Chairman Albert Ho, both former legislators, serving 20 months and 18 months prison sentences respectively for their participation in unauthorized assembly.
Luo Huining, Beijing’s top representative in the city, said at an event in June celebrating the centennial of the Communist Party that the territory’s “genuine archenemy” was one advocating “the end of one-party dictatorship,” an implicit reference to the alliance’s key slogan.
Chow herself has been detained for over a month, charged with “inciting others to knowingly join an unauthorized assembly,” in relation to this year’s banned vigil. She was released on bail on Aug. 5 and is scheduled to be sentenced in relation to two other cases over the next couple months.
The Alliance said it will call an extraordinary general meeting on Sept 25 to discuss and decide on whether to follow the footsteps of other pro-democracy organizations that have disbanded or are in the process of doing so fearing reprisals under the national security law.
“It would be difficult for the Alliance to survive, whether they comply with the national security police or not,” given the escalation of suppression against civil organizations deemed to be on the side of the opposition, said Tomoko Ako, professor of sociology and China studies at the University of Tokyo.
The Civil Human Rights Front — the main organizer of annual July 1 protest marches and rallies that brought over a million people to streets in 2019 — announced it will disband last month.
The Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union, the city’s largest professional union, will officially vote to dissolve on Saturday. The PTU was organized in 1973 by Szeto Wah, a late icon of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and the founder of the Alliance in 1989.
Additional reporting by Stella Wong