A civil-rights group in Hong Kong best known for organising several massive protests during the 2019 social unrest is facing a police investigation into the legality of its operations, the group’s current and former officials said.
The Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) has been asked to provide information to the police on its funding sources, expenses and related bank accounts, as well as its reasons for not registering with the government.
The CHRF has organized an annual protest march every July 1 to mark the handover anniversary of Hong Kong to China for more than two decades, including peaceful protests of more than one million people in 2019.
It is now being investigated by police under a law governing the running of civil society groups.
According to a letter sent to CHRF convener Figo Chan, the group is being asked to give reasons why it hasn’t registered as a “society” under the Societies Ordinance, and asking it to prove it is exempt from doing so, Chan told local media.
He was also asked to provide details of the group’s online presence, including who runs its Facebook page, and a list of dates and venues of all marches organized since September 2006, all bank accounts and expense accounts, as well as funding sources.
If, as reported, the group is proven to have received funding for the US-based National Endowment for Democracy, its members could be prosecuted under a national security law imposed by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on Hong Kong from July 1, 2020, for “colluding with a foreign power.”
The law bars Hongkongers from accepting funding from overseas-based groups, meeting with foreign politicians, or collaborating with foreign political organizations.
Former CHRF convener Johnson Yeung said the organization had never had any issues with the authorities before now.
“In the past, the police always regarded us as a civic organization, and were very happy to liaise with us,” Yeung said. “They would usually get in touch with us [ahead of annual marches]and ask us to go to the police station for a meeting to discuss details.”
He said police had begun imposing more restrictions on demonstrations, which increased in frequency, and were not just limited to the July 1 date, from 2013 and into the 2014 Occupy Central pro-democracy movement.
The CHRF is an umbrella body that typically coordinated and liaised with a multitude of civil society groups, political organizations and trade unions to run the peaceful demonstrations.
One of its key roles was liaising with the police, and applying for a “letter of no objection” ahead of the marches, under the much-criticized Public Order Ordinance (POO).
Yeung said he fears the letter is a precursor to the banning of the CHRF, which will be a further attack on the city’s promised freedoms of speech and association.
“The worst-case scenario is that they ban it under the Societies Ordinance,” he said.
Chief executive Carrie Lam declined to comment on individual cases when asked about the letter on Tuesday.
She warned that the freedoms of speech, assembly and association “are not absolute,” and must take place within the law. (Source: RFA)