Four members of the pro-democracy League of Social Democrats (LSD) party have seen their personal bank accounts terminated by Hong Kong’s HSBC, Hang Seng Bank and the Bank of China, the party has said.
It came after the party said that HSBC closed three bank accounts they had used for receiving donations without specifying reasons.
Protesting outside the HSBC’s headquarters in Central on Tuesday morning, the LSD’s chairperson Chan Po-ying said the move had damaged the city’s reputation as an international financial hub.
“It’s like we’re going back to the stone age,” Chan said.
According to the LSD, low-profile core members and activist Yu Wai-pan were among the four LSD members whose personal bank accounts were terminated in early 2023.
In its reply last week to HKFP, HSBC said that like all banks, it 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.
Raphael Wong, a former LSD chairperson, said it was “unbelievable” that HSBC had terminated some members’ personal accounts.
HKFP has also reached out to Hang Seng Bank and the Bank of China.
The LSD is one of Hong Kong’s few remaining opposition parties, and the only one that still speaks out by holding occasional street booths and rallies.
National security police searched the homes of six members of the LSD ahead of last year’s anniversary of the city’s return to Chinese rule.
Last October, PayPal Hong Kong halted services for the LSD due to “excessive risks.” The party said the payment platform did not explain what the “excessive risks” were.
‘Waiting’ for death
Hong Kong’s HSBC bank earlier closed three of the LSD’s bank accounts, stating in a letter – seen by HKFP – that it had “carefully taken into account multiple factors and conducted a comprehensive assessment prior to reaching this decision.”
Chan said the party had been using HSBC’s service for 17 years, yet the bank had decided to “ignore its social responsibility for the sake of its business in China.”
It would be hard for the party to receive donations after losing some of its HSBC accounts, external vice-chairperson Dickson Chau said, adding that its savings were only sufficient for one or two years of operations.
“Our main expense is the legal fees for ‘Long Hair,'” Chau said, referring to the nickname for Leung Kwok-hung. Leung, one of the co-founders of the LSD, is among the 47 democrats charged under the national security law for their involvement in a legislative primary in 2020. The ex-lawmaker pleaded not guilty and is in custody.
Chau also said the party did not plan to open accounts at other banks. “I don’t think we can open a new account as the LSD anymore. We haven’t tried it, but I think it would not be possible,” he added.
“When an organisation loses its accounts for receiving donations, and is fined for fundraising on the streets, what can it do? [It will be] waiting for its own death [as Hong Kong] loses another voice,” Wong, the former chair, said.
The LSD has been penalised over holding street booths. In March, a court ordered it to pay a fine of HK$1,000 for collecting money in public place without permit.
Dozens of civil society groups have folded since Beijing passed a national security law – bypassing the local legislature – following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. The legislation 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.