Hong Kong opposition party activists protest account closures at HSBC head office

Opposition party activists staged a protest outside the iconic headquarters of HSBC in Hong Kong this week after the bank shut down their party"s accounts.
Five League of Social Democrats members gathered by the lion statues outside the bank"s headquarters in Hong Kong"s Central business district on Tuesday, holding up a banner that read: "Dollar signs in their eyes – aiding and abetting tyranny."
"Cancellation of bank accounts is soft political persecution!" the protesters, who included party chairwoman Chan Po-ying, chanted. "Everyone is at risk in this international financial center!"
"Don"t trample on our rights of association!" they shouted, watched closely by around a dozen police officers.
The protest comes amid a citywide crackdown on public dissent and political opposition under the 2020 national security law, which has included the freezing of politicians’ assets by Hong Kong banks.
Party leader Chan Po-ying, who was arrested at the weekend on a downtown shopping street carrying an electric candle and a yellow paper mourning flower on the 34th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, said the move had stopped the party"s operations in their tracks.
"The closure of the League of Social Democrats" bank accounts for no reason affects our day-to-day operations, but also our survival as a political organization," Chan told journalists at the scene. "We were dependent on digital transfers from people"s bank accounts, because we"re not allowed to raise money on the street."
"We may live in an international financial hub, but we lack access to even the most basic banking services," she said.
Vice chairman Dickson Chau said he had received an initial notification from HSBC in February that the bank would be closing down the party"s three bank accounts, which were held at different branches of the bank, but without explaining why.
At least four other members of the party have had their personal accounts shut down, too.
"Based on our political stance, but without explaining the reason, HSBC unilaterally and recklessly canceled our accounts, affecting the day-to-day running of our organization," Chau told journalists at the protest.
"We believe that this is part of the systematic suppression of Hong Kong people"s freedom of association and freedom of speech," he said.
He said the bank"s actions had affected the party"s ability to raise funds of its jailed former chairman Leung Kwok-hung, who is one of 47 political activists and former lawmakers currently standing trial for "subversion" after they organized a democratic primary in the summer of 2020.
Veteran activist Tsang Kin-Shing
, a member of the “League of Social Democrats,” speaks during a protest outside the headquarters of The Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited (HSBC) in Hong Kong on Tuesday, June 6, 2023. Credit: AFP
Chau said the League had been forced to return "thousands of Hong Kong dollars" in donations due to the move by HSBC, adding that he wasn"t optimistic that the party would be able to open new accounts anywhere in Hong Kong.
A security officer from HSBC received a letter from the protesters at the scene.
But requests for comment from the bank had met with no response by the time of writing.
The protest came after the London-based rights group Hong Kong Watch accused banks including HSBC of perpetrating a “brazen asset grab” by withholding up to U.S.$2.4 billion in the pension pots of Hong Kongers who have emigrated to the United Kingdom under its British National Overseas visa scheme.
The group called it a form of "punishment" for leaving amid an ongoing crackdown on dissent, and singled out HSBC for criticism, saying the bank had been supportive of a draconian national security law imposed on Hong Kong by the Communist Party from July 1, 2020.
In January 2021, HSBC came under fire for freezing the accounts of self-exiled former opposition lawmaker Ted Hui and his family after he said he was resettling in the U.K., as well as that of a Hong Kong church that had helped protesters during the 2019 pro-democracy movement.
Police watch as the “League of Social Democrats” protests outside the headquarters of The Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited (HSBC) in Hong Kong on Tuesday, June 6, 2023. Credit: AFPFormer finance channel chief at i-CABLE News Joseph Ngan said such actions damage Hong Kong"s image as an international financial center.
"Before, [this would only happen in the case of] illegal activities like money-laundering, which would have been explained and understood," Ngan said.
"But this is purely a case of targeting a political party, an organization that is legally registered in Hong Kong, yet it is still being restricted."
Ngan said it was unclear whether the political pressure on the bank was coming from the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Beijing, or the Hong Kong government.
He said HSBC had a responsibility to explain "in a clear and reasonable manner," why it was restricting customers" access to banking services.
Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Paul Eckert.


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