Police U-turn stuns Hong Kong rally host after 19 years of recognition

Published (HKT): 2021.05.05 06:00

A democracy group that has organized numerous rallies in Hong Kong and is recognized by police as a good working partner says it is shocked to learn it may be deemed illegal.

The Civic Human Rights Front, for many years the organizer of the annual July 1 rally and other demonstrations, including many during the 2019 protests, is under a police investigation for allegedly breaching the Societies Ordinance.

The colonial-era law technically allows the authorities to monitor all forms of organizations by requiring their registration. Some of its provisions, including those governing registration, were once abolished on human rights grounds in the early 1990s and later revived by a pro-Beijing provisional legislature.

Last Monday, the police asked the front to hand in some documents by Wednesday, including the income and bank account records accumulated since its establishment in 2002. Officials also demanded an explanation of why the group made a petition to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights last December.

Front convenor Figo Chan said in a reply to the police on Tuesday that it was shocked to learn about the allegation. The group would not answer all the questions raised by the police, he said, as the freedom of association should be upheld in accordance with the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.

Chan said government departments including the police had worked with the front on countless occasions over the years, and had never invoked the ordinance to require the group to register. Neither had they accused the group of being illegal, he said.

During past meetings to discuss rally arrangements, police officials had also praised the front as a good working partner, while former Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying once described the group as his friend, Chan said.

“If the front were an illegal society, why have the police and other government departments been cooperating with it?” he questioned in his reply.

Police launched the investigation after two Beijing mouthpieces, the media outlets Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po, ran front-page articles calling for enforcement action to outlaw the group. The newspapers said that national security authorities were in possession of reports claiming the front had received foreign funds or colluded with forieign forces. They asked why the group had been allowed to operate unlawfully for 19 years.

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