Four key members of the group behind the city’s annual Tiananmen Massacre vigil have been arrested, the pro-democracy alliance has said. The arrests came the morning after they publicly refused a police demand for information as part of a national security probe into the 32-year-old group.
The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China said its Vice-chair Chow Hang-tung and committee members Simon Leung, Tang Ngok-kwan and Chan To-wai were arrested in the early hours of Wednesday.
The four are being held at separate police stations, the group said, including in Mong Kok and Yuen Long.
Police confirmed the arrests later on Wednesday, saying the four, aged between 36 and 57, were arrested for failing to comply with the implementation rules of Article 43 of the national security law. The force said the four are being detained for investigation and didn’t rule out further arrests.
Another alliance committee member, Tsui Hon-kwong, has not yet been arrested, according to the Alliance’s media liaison.
StandNews reported that around six police officers showed up to arrest Leung at a hotel in Tsuen Wan, while a video posted to Chow’s Facebook page showed her saying that people had come to her office door at around 7 a.m. and attempted to force the door code.
The barrister was set to represent Gwyneth Ho at her bail hearing in court on Wednesday. Ho is one of the 47 democrats facing national security charges over an unofficial primary election.
The police had requested information from the group in a letter in late August under provisions of the national security law. The force also alleged that the group had been working with foreign agents, a potential violation of the Beijing-imposed legislation.
The group defied the police request on Tuesday, saying the demand had no legal basis. Chow had called on Hongkongers to “continue resisting.”
Penalties for refusing police data requests under the law include a HK$100,000 fine and six months in prison.
The Security Bureau expressed its support for the arrests on Wednesday.
“Ignoring warnings given, the organisation concerned resolutely insisted on refusing to comply with the Police’s requirement to provide information pursuant to Schedule 5 of the Implementation Rules. Hence, the Police have to take law enforcement actions,” a spokesperson said.
The bureau also said any law enforcement operations are “based on evidence” and “strictly according to the law.”
Founded in 1989, the Alliance has been the organiser of an annual vigil and other events commemorating victims of the Tiananmen Massacre. It is estimated that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people died when the People’s Liberation Army was deployed to crack down on protesters in Beijing on June 4, 1989.
‘Swift and efficient action’
The arrests came within 24 hours of comments by Secretary for Security Chris Tang vowing “swift and efficient action” against the group after its denial of the police data request.
The group has been under increasing pressure from officials and pro-Beijing voices in recent months, which have called on the group to disband or face legal consequences under the security law.
Other key Alliance leaders Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho have been jailed on charges relating to the 2019 protests and unrest, while seven members of its permanent committee resigned in early July. The group has announced it will hold a meeting at the end of the month to vote on whether to disband.
Speaking about the Alliance on Tuesday, the city’s leader Carrie Lam denied that recent pressure on the group represented a crackdown on civil society, saying that a group which did not obey the law and the police could not be considered a part of civil society.
The arrests follow the disbandment of two core civil society groups last month, both citing an inability to see a way forward in the current political situation.
Update 13.24: This article has been updated to include the police’s and the Security Bureau’s statements.
Correction 13:24: A previous version of the article included an incorrect spelling one of the arrestees, it should be Chan To-wai.