Report: Hong Kong police investigating protest group
HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong police are reportedly investigating the group that organizes an annual protest march marking the semiautonomous territory’s handover to China for possible violation of the national security law.
Police are gathering evidence and could take action against the Civil Human Rights Front, which holds the July 1 march each year and also organized some of the bigger political protests that roiled the city in 2019, Police Commissioner Raymond Siu Chak-yee told Ta Kung Pao newspaper in an interview published Friday.
Siu told the newspaper that the group never formally registered with the government nor the police since it was established in 2002.
“Anyone who violates the law, they better not think they can escape,” Siu was quoted as saying.
A spokesperson for the Hong Kong Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The group would be the latest target of a sweeping crackdown on dissent that has followed Beijing’s imposition of the national security law on the territory last year. The legislation outlaws secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign collusion and has been used to arrest more than 100 pro-democracy figures since it was first implemented a year ago as well as the closure of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily.
The crackdown has virtually silenced opposition voices in the city — and drawn sanctions from the U.S. against Hong Kong and Chinese government officials.
The South China Morning Post newspaper reported Friday that the Civil Human Rights Front had decided to disband, but did not publicly announce the decision. The group did not respond to requests for comment through their social media sites, while a public email for the group returned an error message.
The group organized massive protests in June 2019 against a proposed extradition law that would have allowed suspects in Hong Kong to stand trial in mainland China, where the judicial system is opaque and often criticized as abusive. The proposed law was seen as further infringement from Beijing on the freedoms the former British colony was promised it could maintain following the 1997 handover.
Although the proposed bill was eventually withdrawn, the massive protests later burgeoned into broader calls for greater democratic freedoms, leading to months of demonstrations that at times turned violent between police and protesters.
Since the national security law was enacted, many unions, associations and political organizations have disbanded amid concerns that the law could be used to target them. The city’s largest teachers’ union — widely seen as pro-democracy — disbanded earlier this week, citing drastic changes in the political landscape.
Siu said in the interview that the Civil Human Rights Front had held multiple rallies in the past year that possibly violated the security law, even as authorities previously said that the national security law was not retroactive.
The organization was previously part of a police probe in April over the legality of their operations.
Some of the most prominent members of the Civil Human Rights Front, including former leaders Figo Chan and Jimmy Sham, are currently in jail on charges related to their activism.
Chan was convicted of organizing an unauthorized assembly, while Sham has been remanded in custody since March over his involvement in an unofficial primary election last year that the authorities say was part of a plot to paralyze the government.