Imprisoned pro-democracy heavyweight Albert Ho has stepped down from three Hong Kong civil society groups. It comes after two of the groups were mentioned in a national security police data request sent to the embattled Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China last month.
Ho resigned from his leadership positions – and halted his membership – of the Alliance, the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, and the New School for Democracy, according to a Democratic Party announcement on Monday.
Ho was a founding member of all three pro-democracy organisations, and was serving as the Alliance’s vice-chair.
His decision comes amid a national security probe into the group, which commemorates the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre. In a letter submitted to the Alliance in late August, the police requested information of any activity, correspondence, or financial transactions between the New School for Democracy, the China Human Rights Lawyers and Concern Group, and other international political organisations since 2014.
The letter also accused the group of being a “foreign agent,” but did not specify a crime under the national security law.
The Alliance had refused to comply with the probe, slamming it as “groundless.” Within two days of their refusal, police arrested five key committee members, and raided its premises, including the already-shuttered museum to the memory of the 1989 crackdown.
The five committee members have since been charged with refusing the data request and denied bail.
The Tiananmen Massacre occurred on June 4, 1989 ending months of student-led demonstrations in China. 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.
The annual candlelight vigil in memory of the massacre, organised by the Alliance, was widely seen as a symbol of Hong Kong’s promised freedoms as opposed to the strict censorship on mainland China, where the massacre has been scrubbed from collective memory.
‘Incitement to subversion’
Ho’s decision to quit the three groups also comes after he was separately charged under the national security law last week. The former lawmaker and two other leaders of the Alliance — Lee Cheuk-yan and Chow Hang-ting — were charged with “incitement to subversion,” a crime which carries up to ten years in prison.
The force has also frozen HK$2.2 million of the group’s assets.
Both Lee and Ho are currently serving two concurrent 18-month sentences for unauthorised assemblies during months of pro-democracy demonstrations and unrest in 2019.
Separately, Ho last Thursday also pleaded guilty along with 11 other democrats to participating or inciting others to participate in an unauthorised assembly during a banned June 4 candlelight vigil last year.
Ho, a human rights solicitor and former Democratic Party chair, has been a major player in the city’s pro-democracy movement since the late 1980’s.
In June 2020, Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – bypassing the local legislature – following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure. The move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China. However, the authorities say it has restored stability and peace to the city.
Correction 21/10: A previous version of this article incorrectly referring to Lee Cheuk-yan as Lee Cheuk-ting.