Hong Kong’s national security police are investigating the organisers of a vigil commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre for alleged foreign collusion offences.
Chow Hang-tung, the vice-chair of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, said authorities had written to core members of the longstanding group demanding information related to their foreign links within 14 days.
Chow said the letters accused the alliance of being “an agent of foreign forces” and requested information about its membership, finances and activities. Failure to comply could bring six months’ jail time or a HK$100,000 (£9,300) fine.
The alliance, which has for decades legally run mass candlelight vigils often attended by hundreds of thousands of people, had already scaled down in an attempt to protect itself from persecution.
Some senior members of the alliance are in jail. Lee Cheuk Yan and Albert Ho are among numerous high-profile activists serving prison terms over their roles in the 2019 pro-democracy protests.
“It’s ridiculous that the police accused the alliance of being an agent of foreign forces,” Chow told Reuters. “It has nothing to do with any foreign agents nor has it received any instructions from foreign countries.”
Speaking to the public broadcaster RTHK, Chow accused the police of scheming to eliminate civil society by discouraging groups from contacting foreign organisations.
“The [security police] use this politicised allegation of a foreign agent to ask us to provide information. This whole matter is clearly an abuse of the national security law to suppress civil organisations,” she said.
The 4 June Tiananmen vigil has traditionally been China’s only legal large-scale commemoration of the 1989 massacre of student protesters by Chinese troops. It has been banned, ostensibly for pandemic-related reasons, for the past two years, but amid Beijing’s encroachment on Hong Kong there is mounting expectation that it will not be permitted even in a post-Covid environment.
The inquiry into the alliance comes at a time of increasing crackdown on political and civil society groups and other representative bodies including professional unions that the government has accused of unpatriotic conduct.
Last week the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) disbanded, saying no members were willing to perform secretariat duties after its convener, Figo Chan Ho-wun, was jailed for 18 months over a 2019 rally. The CHRF is also under investigation by police.
The 19-year-old umbrella organisation had been a significant presence or organiser of protests in Hong Kong until authorities began to systematically deny permission to it and other political gatherings, citing the coronavirus.
The disbandment came days after the Hong Kong police chief suggested that past rallies organised by the CHRF may have violated the national security law, despite the CHRF having obtained permits, and repeated reassurances from authorities that the 13-month-old law is not retroactive.