After imprisoning the core members of a group of activists, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China (HK Alliance), Hong Kong's national security police are now set to dismantle the organization that hosts the annual vigil commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre.
Su Xinqi, a journalist from the AFP news agency based in Hong Kong published on Twitter a letter from Chris Tang, head of Hong Kong Security Bureau, recommending that Chief Executive Carrie Lam remove the HK Alliance from the Companies Registry:
#JUSTIN Dismantling of HK Alliance goes on without a gasp – security minister Chris Tang, advices by police chief Raymond Siu, is set to recommend CE Carrie Lam and ExCo to strike HKA off Companies Register. HKA has it till 5pm on Sep 24 to argue while all leaders behind bars. pic.twitter.com/mvjxeVd8DC
— Xinqi Su 蘇昕琪 (@XinqiSu) September 10, 2021
The deadline for removal, September 24, is just one week before October 1, China's National Day. In a similar manner, the Apple Daily newspaper, after its management were arrested and charged with conspiring to engage in foreign collusion, was forced to shut down on June 24, one week before July 1, a date that marks both the foundation of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the date of Hong Kong’s handover to China.
The move to dismantle the HK Alliance came right after police pressed charges against its top three leaders, Lee Cheuk-yan, Albert Ho and Chow Hang-tung, accusing them of incitement to subversion under the National Security Law (NSL). The three were accused of inciting others to participate in unlawful acts to subvert state power from July 1, 2020, to September 8, 2021. Journalist Alvin Lum of the Hong Kong- based CitizenNews revealed further details on Twitter:
Exclusive: prosecution has accused Hong Kong Alliance’s “end one-party dictatorship” operational goal being subversive, while candle light vigils of portraying Chinese Communist Party as a “totalitarian regime” with “oppressive leaders” to be overthrown. https://t.co/CJDQsYm27d
— Alvin Lum (@alvinllum) September 11, 2021
The charges could lead to a maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment. Albert Ho and Lee Cheuck-yan are already serving separate sentences for participating in authorized protests in 2019.
In the same court, five committee members of the Alliance, including Simon Leung Kam-wai, Tang Ngok-kwan, Chan To-wai, Tsui Hon-kwong and Chow Hang-tung, were charged with breaching the implementation rules of the NSL after they declined to comply with police requests. The non-compliance charge can lead to a fine of HK$100,000 (approximately US $13,000) and six months behind bars.
The core members of the HK Alliance, along with activists from other civic groups, also face separate charges for organizing, inciting, or participating in the banned Tiananmen candlelight vigil on June 4, 2020. Albert Ho together with 11 activists pleaded guilty on September 9 to taking part in the vigil last year. Others, including Chow Hang-tung and Lee Cheuk-yan, pleaded not guilty and will stand trial in November.
The HK Alliance has been organizing massive gatherings on June 4 in Hong Kong since 1990 to commemorate the Tiananmen crackdown on students’ anti-corruption and pro-democratic reform protests in 1989. For 30 years tens of thousands have been attending the annual event, but in 2020 the police banned the public gathering for the first time, citing health concerns.
As stressed by the former chair of the group, Albert Ho, in his mitigation plea, the HK Alliance has taken it as a patriotic duty to remember history and to voice people’s desire for an open and democratic political system in China:
…we were driven by our consciences and moral commitment to make our best endeavours to maintain this historic tradition of commemorating June 4, remembering the lesson of history and speaking truth to power.
The police initially accused the HK Alliance of being a ‘foreign agent’ and requested its assistance in providing a list of internal documents for its investigation. The group declined to comply on September 8. Within 24 hours, the police had arrested five executive committee members, raided the organization’s warehouse and its historical museum about the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre, and froze HK$2.2 million (US dollars: 283,000) of its assets.
Tom Grundy from the Hong Kong Free Press tweeted about the police’s crackdown:
Historical exhibits taken away by security police. Photos: Isaac Lawrence/AFP.
Meanwhile, Alliance director Tsui Hong-kwong arrested: https://t.co/suNUk6emdM
— Tom Grundy (@tomgrundy) September 9, 2021
Barrister Chow Hang-tung, who at 36 is the youngest among the three, had anticipated her arrest before she handed-in the HK Alliance letter of non-compliance, as journalist Xinqi Su highlighted:
Asked ystd what she would like to say to HK people in case of arrest, Chow Hang-tung said, “I would like to say to HK people: do not give up your fight, not so fast…do not surrender to the unreasonable power, do not surrender to a life that demands you to lie day to day… pic.twitter.com/G5TC0IIuLG
— Xinqi Su 蘇昕琪 (@XinqiSu) September 8, 2021
Upon acknowledging that the police would charge her with ‘incitement to subversion’ instead of being a ‘foreign agent’, the human rights lawyer said she was ‘relieved,’ as she hoped the trial could set the stage for an open debate over responsibility for the June 4 massacre and China’s political system:
A message from Chow Hang-tung @zouxintong via her lawyer, after HKPF changed the allegation against Chow: “When I heard the words “incitement to subversion”, I took a pause, and felt relieved instead. If that's how the cards are dealt, let's have an open and honest debate.” pic.twitter.com/MpyWqFDxAj
— K Tse (@ktse852) September 9, 2021
As expressed in political cartoonist Ah To's latest work, the crackdown on the HK Alliance amounts to the suppression of the people's aspiration for democracy and its replacement by nationalism.
Doodle titled “Surgery”, mourning the HK Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, founded in 1989.
She's stood tall for 30 years, but now the Goddess of Democracy's torch of enlightenment is replaced by a red flag of nationalism.?
— Niao Collective ?? (@NiaoCollective) September 9, 2021