Hong Kong’s national security police have accused the group behind the annual candlelight vigil marking the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre as acting as an agent for foreign forces.

The claim was made in a letter served on Wednesday to seven standing committee members of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, including its chairman Lee Cheuk-yan and vice-chiefs Chow Hang-tung and Albert Ho.

Chow Hang-tung
Chow Hang-tung. File photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

The police action comes despite widespread speculation that the alliance is on the verge of shutting down. It would be the latest of several pro-democracy groups – including the Professional Teachers’ Union and the Civil Human Rights Front – to fold in recent months under pressure from Beijing.

The coalition group organised an annual mass vigil in Victoria Park which some years drew hundreds of thousands of people – the only major commemoration on Chinese soil of the massacre, which ended months of student demonstrations.

According to a copy of the letter provided by Chow, police cited the national security law to demand information about the alliance’s directors, committee members and full-time staff since its establishment 32 years ago. The force requested personal details including name, date of birth, identification document number, home address and phone number of those linked to the group.

The alliance was told to hand over information on the events it has organised since 2014 in connection with the New School for Democracy founded in Hong Kong and the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group. Police also sought information on activities associated with foreign political groups such as the Asia Democracy Network and those funded by the US National Endowment for Democracy.

Photo: Todd Darling/HKFP.
The candlelight vigil held on June 4, 2019 to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. Photo: Todd R. Darling/HKFP.

“The Commissioner of Police reasonably believes that issuing this notice is for the purpose of preventing and investigating crimes endangering national security. With the approval of the Secretary for Security, [police] deliver this notice to the Hong Kong Alliance,” the document read.

Jimmy Lai’s top aide

The police request focused on the alliance’s exchanges with Mark Simon, a close aide of jailed pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai. The national security unit asked for records of events and meetings the group held with Simon, who is based abroad, as well as their monetary transactions with him.

Lai and Simon are involved in a separate national security case, in which the 73-year-old media mogul stands accused of colluding with foreign forces by requesting overseas sanctions against Hong Kong or China.

Jimmy Lai
Jimmy Lai being transferred onto a Correctional Services vehicle on February 1, 2021. Photo: Studio Incendo.

Police demanded that the alliance produce bank details, a list of current and past properties, and any financial exchanges with the political groups.

Recipients of the notice must submit the required information before September 7 or face a fine of up to HK$100,000 and six months behind bars.

In response to HKFP enquiries, police said on Wednesday its national security unit requested “certain persons” to provide information in accordance with the procedures and methods stipulated under schedule 5 of Article 43 of the security law.

The force refused to provide further details, but vowed to take action against organisations suspected of breaching the sweeping legislation.

“Police emphasise that, we will definitely continue to use a… rigorous attitude to proactively handle groups that allegedly endangered national security and other relevant organisations,” the force said in an emailed reply to HKFP.

National security Hong Kong flag
Photo: GovHK.

Rumours of disbandment

The committee of the embattled alliance reportedly passed a decision to disband on Monday, pending an endorsement by its member groups at an emergency general meeting.

Pro-Beijing media in Hong Kong have launched continuous attacks on the group. Wen Wei Po on Thursday published a timeline and accused the alliance of “colluding with overseas anti-China groups” and being involved in “anti-China disrupting Hong Kong” incidents.

The organisation’s leadership also thinned out over the past year, as its chairman Lee and vice-chair Ho are currently in prison for offences linked to the 2019 protests. Another vice-chief Chow, a barrister, was only released on bail in early August, after she was charged with inciting others to take part in a banned rally on June 4 this year to commemorate the 1989 crackdown.

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Kelly Ho

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.