Hong Kong’s largest protest group is “daydreaming” if it thinks it can evade prosecution by disbanding, Beijing has warned, accusing the coalition of breaking the national security law as police in the city also vowed to take action.

Two mainland agencies stepped up their attack on the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) even after it announced on Sunday that it had decided to shut down owing to “unprecedented challenges.” The group, founded in 2002, had organised some of the largest pro-democracy marches and rallies in the city’s history, with approval from police.

china extradition June 16 Sunday protest (1) (Copy)
A march on June 16, 2019 organised by the Civil Human Rights Front. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

In a statement on Sunday, China’s Liaison Office in the city said the CHRF had “arbitrarily challenged” the rule of law over the years by “inciting, planning and organising” unlawful assemblies and “violent confrontations” in Hong Kong.

It accused the coalition of uniting “anti-China” organisations and political figures to “collude” with foreign powers, as well as providing a platform for its members to promote Hong Kong independence.

“[The CHRF] arbitrarily harmed society’s common interests… its downfall is what people wanted, they only have themselves to blame,” the liaison office said.

“Although they were forced to play a ‘sympathy card’ and disbanded automatically under the pressure of the law and public opinion, its disbandment statement – which was full of lies -showed its nature of opposing anything that is China-related,” it added.

Figo Chan October 1 unauthorised assembly trial
Figo Chan. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

In making its announcement the Front cited the imprisonment of its convenor Figo Chan and said its member groups had faced “oppression.” It said the group’s secretariat could not sustain operations and there was no choice but to disband.

The announcement comes just days after the 95,000-member Professional Teachers’ Union announced it was shutting down under pressure from Beijing. State media is pressing for further punitive action against the union.

Pro-democracy groups seen by Beijing as a threat to stability have come under increasing pressure since Beijing imposed the national security law, with punishments ranging up life imprisonment, on the city in June 2020. It said it was responding to widespread and sometimes violent protests the previous year.

Another Beijing agency, the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office (HKMAO), accused the CHRF of being “arrogant” and “hypocritical” in its disbandment statement. The office said it was “despicable” for the group to mention human rights, democracy and freedom in a bid to gain sympathy and “incite public opinion.”

Luo Huining
Director of the Liaison Office Luo Huining. Photo: GovHK screenshot.

“The CHRF knew its behaviour and activities already seriously touched the bottom line of the One Country, Two Systems principle, and contravened the Hong Kong national security law and many local laws…” the HKMAO said.

“[When] they reached the end of road, they hurriedly announced to disband… [they] wanted to evade legal responsibilities. That is wishful thinking, daydreaming!”

Police action

Police said the Front had failed to comply with its request for members’ information and financial records in relation to a probe under the Societies Ordinance. In April, the protest organiser was asked to explain why it did not re-register as a society, after it cancelled its registration in 2006.

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A march on June 9, 2019 organised by the Civil Human Rights Front. Photo: Todd R. Darling/HKFP.

“Police reiterated that an organisation and its member(s) remain criminally liable for the offence committed, regardless of the disbandment of the organisation or the resignation of its member(s).”

Both Beijing offices said they supported the police decision to continue their probe, saying “chief evil members” should be “severely punished.”

“Although anti-China disrupting Hong Kong groups like the CHRF have disbanded, its remaining poison has to be cleared. Only by thoroughly liquidating the evil deeds of these groups…. can Hong Kong restore the order of rule of law,” the HKMAO said.

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Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.