Several members of a Hong Kong group that organizes an annual vigil for the commemoration of the Tiananmen Square Massacre were arrested on Sept. 8 after they refused to provide information for a police investigation.
The group, The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Democratic Movements in China, has been under investigation since Aug. 25. Hong Kong authorities requested information, due on Sept. 7, on its membership, finances, and activities. The Alliance said the police inquired whether the group was colluding, with foreign powers, which is an offense punishable under the Beijing-imposed National Security Law, or NSL.
The New York Times reported that at least four members of the group were detained on Sept. 8, including its vice chairwoman, Chow Hang Tung. Her arrest was documented live on Facebook for the general public to witness, as Ms. Chow posted updates and asked, “Does anybody have any parting words they’d like to share with me?”
“Any words of farewell for me?” Chow asked, while police is presumably pressing her door bell. pic.twitter.com/a0Iq1sUxJw
— Alvin Lum (@alvinllum) September 7, 2021
Sept. 7 was the deadline Hong Kong authorities set for information on the Alliance. Hong Kong police wanted compliance from the group, but instead the Alliance sent back a formal rejection.
After the Alliance’s rejection, Chris Tang, Hong Kong’s security secretary, promised Hong Kong authorities would respond quickly. Many questions and speculations have been brought against the Alliance, including if it had acted as a foreign agent by receiving funds from overseas.
Tang defends the arrests, saying “it’s very clearly stated in the law” that “foreign agents include those who receive money or support from overseas political parties or political organizations, and then act to the benefit of those foreign organizations.”
The arrests come after multiple social groups have had no choice but to disband amid increasing pressure from the NSL, which bans anything the Chinese Communist Party, or CCP, perceives to be a threat to national security.
Since the NSL’s passage in June 2020, police have arrested over 150 citizens, numerous social groups have disbanded and businesses have dissolved due to the law’s harsh and broad restrictions.
Among the shuttered social groups are the Civil Rights Human Front, or CRHF, a group similar to the Alliance that organized of large scale pro-democracy protests, as well as the Hong Kong Speech Therapists Union, whose executives were arrested for publishing a children’s book that portrays democratic ideals.
The NSL has crippled businesses, as well. Just last week, one of the last prominent pro-democracy outlets, Next Digital Media, announced its closure for the safety of its employees and affiliates.
The CCP’s intimidation and intense restrictions have not only quashed free expression, the CCP has also hamstrung Hong Kong social life and economic enterprise, two integral components of a prosperous society.
“They are trying to intimidate the people who participate in social movements,” Chow said to reporters on Sept. 5. In addition, she pushed back against claims that the Alliance colluded with foreign powers, saying “if you must say we are agents of anything, we are the agents of the Hong Kong people’s conscience.”
The vigil that the Alliance organized annually commemorated the Tiananmen Square Massacre, an event that took place on June 4, 1989, when Chinese troops murdered student protesters and activists.
Each year, thousands of participants flocked to Victoria Park to remember those who were killed by police. Last year, the vigil was banned on the grounds that it violated COVID regulations. This year’s vigil was largely blocked by police, who intimidated individuals and groups from participating.
By missing the government’s deadline to cooperate with investigations, members of the Alliance now may face up to six months in jail and HK$100,000 in fines.