Hong Kong’s second September under the Beijing-imposed national security law saw more long-established pro-democracy groups folding, veteran democrats and students alike being charged with security offences, and suggestions by the security chief that detained activists are encouraging “subversive” forces through M&M chocolates and other prison privileges.

In the 15 months since the security law’s enactment, 154 people have been arrested under it, whilst 96 of them have been charged. They include five key members of the alliance behind the city’s Tiananmen Massacre vigils and leaders of a student group which provided necessities for detained activists. Four companies have also been charged.

Richard Tsoi voted to hold the special general meeting of the Alliance on September 25, 2021. Photo: Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China

HKFP rounds up the latest developments as authorities continue to reshape the city. Click here for the full, monthly series.

Alliance crackdown

At the beginning of September, the group which organised vigils for victims of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre refused to comply with a police demand for information on its communications and financial transactions with other local and international groups.

In its letter, the police had accused the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China of being a “foreign agent.” The Alliance said the data request and the accusations were “groundless.”

Attendees preparing to vote in the Alliance’s special general meeting on September 25, 2021. Photo: Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China.

In response, the security chief vowed “swift” action. Within the week, five key committee members were charged with refusing the police’s data request and denied bail.

Separately but on the same day, authorities charged the Alliance and three of its leaders — Lee Cheuk-yan, Albert Ho Chun-yan, and Chow Hang-tung — with “incitement to subversion,” a crime which carries up to ten years’ imprisonment under the security law. Lee and Ho were already serving 18-month sentences for unauthorised assembly during the 2019 pro-democracy protests and unrest.

Concurrently, the police froze HK$2.2 million of the group’s assets and raided its premises, including an already-shuttered museum to the memory of the massacre, taking away exhibits and boxes of evidence.

Hong Kong Alliance’s Albert Ho and Chow Hang-tung. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Three days later, Ho announced his resignation and withdrawal from the Alliance and two other civil society groups named in the police data request. The group also scrubbed its online presence at the force’s behest, deleting over three decades of archives.

By the end of the month, with its leadership detained and assets frozen, the remaining members voted to disband.

The Alliance’s disbandment marks the end of a 32-year campaign for an end to one-party rule in China and accountability for the victims of Beijing’s bloody crackdown on student-led pro-democracy protests on June 4, 1989.

A person holds an electric candle outside police barricades around Victoria Park on June 4, 2021. Photo: Jimmy Lam/HKFP.

The Alliance was a core player in the city’s pro-democracy movement, and its annual candlelight vigils in Victoria Park were widely seen as a symbol of Hong Kong’s promised post-handover freedoms and autonomy from Beijing.

A support group for human rights lawyers on mainland China founded by Ho also disbanded. The group announced it had also received a police data request on its dealings with the Alliance, saying that it had responded to the letter. It did not specify whether it had provided the information requested.

Police probe into protest humanitarian fund

September began with police launching a national security probe into the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which was set up at the beginning of the 2019 pro-democracy protests to provide financial support to protesters in need of medical and legal assistance. In response, the fund stopped accepting donations.

Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The fund, whose trustees include veteran democrats Margaret Ng, Cardinal Joseph Zen, and Cantopop star Denise Ho, had already announced it would cease operations and was in its last round of crowdfunding to cover the costs of liquidation.

The probe prompted calls from pro-Beijing lawmakers to better regulate crowdfunding. The government said it was mulling new regulations for both online and offline crowdfunding.

Separately, Ho was forced to cancel a live concert, after the venue run by the Hong Kong Arts Centre abruptly cancelled her agreement 11 days before the event was set to take place, citing “public order” concerns.

Largest pro-democracy trade union folds

The city’s largest pro-democracy coalition of labour unions, the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, disbanded, citing safety concerns for its members. Its closure followed sustained attacks from Chinese-backed media.

Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions. File photo: inmediahk.net via C.C.2.0.

The group had at one time represented around 145,000 workers from 93 industries.

Prison privileges attacked, groups disband

Hong Kong’s security chief Chris Tang took aim at activists in prison, claiming that some have been scheming to “endanger national security” from behind bars, using prison privileges such as M&M chocolates and hairclips to “build influence.”

His comments came after an elite enforcement squad was deployed to quash an 18-person protest at the city’s largest women’s prison. Ousted district councillor Tiffany Yuen, one of the 47 democrats facing national security charges over an informal primary election, was reportedly among the group.

Items confiscated by the police from Student Politicism’s community space and warehouse. Photo: Hong Kong Police, via video screenshot.

The week after Tang’s comments, the city’s main support group for activists in prison, Wall-fare, announced it would cease operations. The group had advocated for better prison conditions, provided supplies for prisoners, and coordinated a letter-writing scheme for detained activists.

Later in the month, student activist group Student Politicism also disbanded after three key members between the ages of 18 and 20 were arrested for allegedly “conspiring to incite subversion.” The trio have been denied bail.

The force also confiscated boxes of prison supplies and accused the group of trying to recruit “like-minded people” via street booths and by providing prison supplies to detained activists.

More press attacks

The security chief also took aim at the city’s press group, accusing it of being biased and “unprofessional” and suggesting that the group should disclose its member details. His comments were echoed by the police chief.

Police officer speaks to a person with a press vest on June 4, 2021. Photo: Jimmy Lam/HKFP.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association hit back at Tang’s comments, saying they were “factually wrong.”

Its chief also slammed the secretary’s suggestion that it should disclose its members’ details, saying this would be a breach of privacy laws.

Rhoda Kwan

Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.