Hong Kong police raid church hours after pastor said HSBC froze accounts

Authorities accused of ‘political retaliation’ over church group’s support of pro-democracy protesters as eight more arrested

Hong Kong police have raided a church, just hours after its pastor said HSBC had frozen bank accounts belonging to him, his wife and the church’s charity.

On Tuesday the Good Neighbour North District church said officers from the financial investigations and narcotics bureau had executed a search warrant on its Kwun Tong branch, and would also search its Fanling church.

Police are yet to comment, but the raid took place after the church’s pastor, Ray Chan, said the accounts had been frozen, which he described as an act of “political retaliation” by authorities for assistance provided by his church to young protesters.

Hong Kong police arrested eight more opposition figures on Tuesday as their crackdown on dissent in the city continued.

In an open letter to HSBC and its executives, the Good Neighbour North District church urged the bank to unfreeze the accounts of pastor Chan, his wife and the church’s charity. The church said the HSBC accounts were their only accounts, and their freezing would lead to the termination of its hostel services for homeless people in Hong Kong.

On Tuesday afternoon, Chan revealed he and his family had left Hong Kong and were in the UK on what he termed a “sabbatical”. In a Facebook video he said the family now had no financial support and returning to Hong Kong seemed impossible.

Chan said the public donations to the church were legal, but did not say if there was any investigation ongoing. He said HSBC had become “a tool for the regime’s attempt to take political revenge via economic oppression”.

“All dissenting voices, despite their peaceful and rational expressions, are disallowed,” he said, and called on people “protect the core values of Hong Kong and voice your concerns over the regime’s attempt to manoeuvre private properties”.

The church also demanded an explanation from HSBC and accused the bank of “exploiting the well-established independent financial system and sabotaging the benefits of individuals and groups of Hong Kong, as well as foreign investors within the territory”.

It said acts by the authorities like the asset freezing of veteran activist Ted Hui and his family had eroded dissent in Hong Kong and suppressed the freedom of religions and community service workers.

“This is no doubt an act of political retaliation,” the church said. “In the past year, our group, Safeguard Our Generation [also know as Protect Our Children], mainly comprised of middle-aged and elderly volunteers, was determined to offer humanitarian aid to protesters at the frontline.”

Chan and other members of grassroots church groups were frequent attendees at Hong Kong’s mass protests, acting as peacekeepers to protect the young protesters from police violence, as well as intervening in any protester violence. They have also assisted young people going through the court system on protest-related charges.

Hong Kong police have been contacted for comment about any ongoing investigations into the church which would prompt an asset freeze.

A spokeswoman for HSBC said it could not comment on specific accounts and directed inquiries to police.

HSBC has been accused of aiding Hong Kong authorities’ crackdown, but on Monday the bank said circumstances around Hui’s case had been “misrepresented”, and that it had to work within the laws of where it operated.

Hui reportedly had accounts with several banks, which were all frozen on request from police, the head of the force’s national security department, superintendent Steve Li, told media.

In a statement late on Monday the financial regulator, Hong Kong’s Monetary Authority, said financial institutions were expected to cooperate with law enforcement authorities on investigations.

In her regular press conference on Tuesday, Carrie Lam, the Hong Kong chief executive, accused Hui of lying to the courts to jump bail, and rejected his claims that banks’ freezing the accounts of opposition figures was harming Hong Kong’s reputation as an international finance hub.

“Is this individual a trustworthy individual that you should take his words on face value, and accuse Hong Kong financial institutions of doing things which are not in accordance with the law?” Lam said. “If there’s any damage to Hong Kong’s financial institutions, the culprit is this individual.”

Hui was approached for comment but had not responded at the time of publication.

Hong Kong and Beijing authorities have shown no sign of slowing their crackdown on people linked with the pro-democracy movement . On Monday eight people were arrested, including three under the national security laws (NSL) over a non-violent protest at a university. And on Tuesday police arrested another eight accused of “inciting, organising and joining unauthorised assembly” on 1 July this year, when crowds took to Hong Kong’s streets on the first full day under the NSL.

Those arrested included opposition politicians and activists “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, Wu Chi-wai, Figo Chan and Chu Hoi-dick. Chan posted video of his arrest to Facebook. Chu later said he had been charged with organising an unauthorised assembly and released on bail.

Released on bail. I am charged with organizing an unauthorized assembly on July 1st 2020. First hearing on Dec 17th 2020. This is my fifth charge in 2020. pic.twitter.com/ILY1xGrA2N

— Chu-Hoidick Eddie (@ChuHoiDick) December 8, 2020

Lam rejected suggestions the government was targeting pro-democracy figures, appearing to suggest there were calls for such activists to be given impunity.

“As long as these people are called pro-democracy activists, it’s as if they have a shield and law-enforcement agencies cannot touch them,” she said.

In recent months numerous pro-democracy legislators have been arrested over accusations including organising protests or disrupting parliament, or been disqualified from parliament or elections. Chu and Hui were previously arrested in November. Last week pro-democracy figure Jimmy Lai was denied bail, and Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam were jailed.


Helen Davidson in Taipei

The GuardianTramp

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