Hong Kong’s HSBC bank has closed three bank accounts used by the League of Social Democrats (LSD) – one of the few remaining opposition parties in the city – for receiving donations, according to a letter from the bank that was seen by HKFP.

HSBC. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP

Dickson Chau Ka-fat, the external vice chairperson of LSD, told HKFP that HSBC first informed the group that their accounts would be terminated in late-February. Despite the group’s request for clarification, HSBC did not give reasons for its decision.

The activist group later received two other letters from the bank on April 25 and May 17, respectively. In its letter dated May 17, HSBC said it maintained the decision to terminate three of LSD’s bank accounts after completing the relevant re-examination.

“We acknowledge that this decision may be disappointing for your company, and we apologise for it. Nevertheless, we kindly request your understanding as we have carefully taken into account multiple factors and conducted a comprehensive assessment prior to reaching this decision,” the letter read.

The three bank accounts, which were mainly used for receiving donations, were the only accounts held by LSD in Hong Kong. Supporters of the group had told them that they were unable to transfer donations to the accounts, Chau added.

The letter sent to LSD from HSBC on May 17, 2023. Photo: supplied.

The leader of LSD, Chan Po-ying was convicted in March of collecting money in a public place without permit. Speaking to reporters after appearing in court, Chan said the verdict could have a severe impact on the way small parties raise funds and “the room for us to exist has again shrunk.”

“I guess the only way to receive donations now is when our supporters hand us the cash in-person,” Chau said, adopting a sarcastic tone, on Friday.

Chau also said the group was likely to withdraw money from the affected accounts in cash and that LSD did not intend to open accounts in other banks in the city.

“This incident showed how difficult it is for civil organisations that did not opt to dissolve to survive now. It’s obvious that this is a political decision,” Chau told HKFP, adding that LSD will continue to operate under limited resources.

In its reply to HKFP, HSBC said all banks, including HSBC, regularly reviewed customers’ account activities and relationships. “We may decide that we will no longer be able to maintain the banking relationships with certain customers,” the bank added.

PayPal Hong Kong halted services for LSD due to unspecified “excessive risks” last October. The payment platform has never explained what the “excessive risks” are, according to the LSD.

police trial 47 democrats
The national security trial of Hong Kong’s 47 democrats began on Monday, February 6. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Chau also told HKFP that the police National Security Department had reached out on Thursday to ask about LSD’s plan for possible “activities” in the coming days. Sunday marks the 34th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown, the victims of which were mourned with large-scale candlelight vigils in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park for decades.

The authorities banned the annual vigil in 2020 and 2021, citing the pandemic, and there was no known application to hold a public commemoration of the crackdown in Causeway Bay last year or this year.

In recent days, officials have declined to comment on the legality of commemorating the hundreds, perhaps thousands, who died when the People’s Liberation Army cracked down on protesters in Beijing on June 4, 1989.

National security police also searched the homes of six members of the LSD ahead of last year’s anniversary of the city’s return to Chinese rule.

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.

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Lea Mok is a multimedia reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously contributed to StandNews, The Initium, MingPao and others. She holds a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.