HK security chief, police vow to take action against disbanded protest organiser

Anti-government protesters attend a demonstration held by Civil Human Rights Front in Hong Kong, on Jan 1, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG - The security chief and the police of Hong Kong have vowed to take follow-up action against the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), in a sign that the woes of the influential and now-disbanded protest organiser are far from over.

Secretary for Security Chris Tang said in a blog post on Monday (Aug 16) that for the city to maintain long-term peace and stability, acts by organisations such as the Professional Teachers' Union (PTU) and the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) that endanger national security must be investigated in accordance with the law, and loopholes must be plugged.

He added that any organisation - or anyone - that breaches the law will not be absolved of its offences, even if the organisation no longer exists.

PTU and CHRF have in the past week announced their decisions to disband.

"If anyone can easily 'dissolve' or 'exit' to evade related responsibilities, the rule of law will be difficult to demonstrate," said Mr Tang.

The police said in a statement on Sunday that they would actively take action over CHRF's violation of the Societies Ordinance.

The police statement, issued hours after CHRF said it would disband, noted that the authorities had in April requested the protest organiser to submit information on its members, activities and funds, in accordance with Section 15 of the ordinance.

"Yet, CHRF failed to submit the requested information to the Societies Officer within the designated period of time," it said.

It added that the group had never registered with the Companies Registry as a company, or with the Police Licensing Office as a legal society.

Therefore, CHRF had been "operating illegally" and members can be prosecuted even if the organisation is dissolved.

The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office on Sunday accused the group of colluding with foreign forces in staging "colour revolutions" - a reference to protests in the Middle East and Eastern Europe that forced changes of government.

It added that the anti-China organisation might have disbanded but the "poison" left behind by such groups had to be cleared.

The statements came after CHRF announced that it would disband amid what it said was mounting suppression and unprecedented challenges.

The group said it had wanted to maintain its original operations but could no longer do so as its convener Figo Chan is in jail over numerous cases.

Chan was jailed in May for 18 months for his role in an unauthorised protest in 2019.

"The secretariat can no longer operate, and since no one indicated that they would take over, (CHRF) has no choice but to disband," the group said.

CHRF was formed in September 2002 by a coalition of civic groups and political parties and is the main force behind the annual July 1 rally, which marks the handover of the former British colony to Beijing in 1997.

At the first edition of the rally in 2003, half a million people, concerned that their freedoms would be curtailed with the enactment of Article 23 of the Basic Law, marched in opposition to it.

The legislation required Hong Kong to enact laws to ban treason, secession, sedition and subversion. Theft of state secrets would be made an offence, while local political groups would be prohibited from establishing ties with foreign bodies.

In 2014, about half a million people turned up for the protest. Some participants took it as a rehearsal for the Occupy Central movement that was to stall the Central Business District in September that year.

In 2019, several of the anti-extradition law demonstrations in the city that drew massive crowds of one million to two million people were also organised by CHRF.

The group's decision on Sunday came just days after PTU announced that it was disbanding. The union had attributed the move to growing political pressure and risks.

And a day before CHRF's move, the Chinese state-run People's Daily had urged The Law Society of Hong Kong to choose the right path.

This came ahead of an election slated for later this month where candidates can fight for five seats on the Law Society's council.

In a commentary, the People's Daily praised the Law Society for previously condemning the violence seen in the 2019 social unrest, as well as smearing of the courts by opposition members and foreign politicians.

Referring to a recent situation involving the chief of the Hong Kong Bar Association, it added: "Hong Kong's Bar Association is now a running rat. It's more than certain that it will be defeated. Use a rational election to show that the (Law Society) is different from the Bar Association."

The association's chief, Mr Paul Harris, had taken over the reins in January and was in April labelled an "anti-China politician" by Beijing's Liaison Office in Hong Kong for criticising the sentencing of the "father of democracy" Martin Lee and media tycoon Jimmy Lai over two unauthorised assemblies in August 2019.

The People's Daily also said the society needed to dissociate itself from "anti-China disruptors" or risk PTU's fate.

Mr Lau Siu Kai, vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, believes that the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China - which organises the June 4 vigil in commemoration of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown - the Hong Kong Journalists Association and the Hong Kong Association of Falun Dafa may follow in the footsteps of PTU and CHRF.

In the eyes of Beijing, there are very few non-radical opposition groups left in Hong Kong, he said, adding that the anti-China thinking has been intensifying for years in the city and Beijing wants to eradicate such extremism.

Locals can still criticise the government, said Mr Lau, but the premise is that such criticisms must not endanger national security.

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