HONG KONG—Thousands of Hongkongers attended an evening rally in Edinburgh Place to protest a move by police to freeze millions in assets held by a local nonprofit that collects donations for protesters in need.
On Dec. 19, the police froze around HK$70 million (about $9 million) in donations to local nonprofit Spark Alliance, and seized $130,000 in cash and 3,300 supermarket coupons worth about HK$165,000 (about $211,000) from the homes of four people arrested from the group. Police said they arrested three men and one woman for suspected “money laundering,” according to a statement.
Spark Alliance, a nonprofit established in 2016, raises money to support protesters on several fronts, including medical and legal financial support.
Spark Alliance, in a Facebook post on Dec. 19, condemned the police for “smearing tactics” against the group. A day later, the nonprofit announced on Facebook that those who were arrested were released on bail, and that it will continue to fully support arrested protesters.
The incident has since implicated HSBC, which closed down an account operated by Spark Alliance in November, according to Hong Kong media. The bank said account activities didn’t match the purposes stated by the client as the reason for its decision.
As a result, many online commentators speculated that HSBC had tipped off the police, leading to the arrests.
HSBC rejected the claim, in a statement on Twitter.
“We closed the account in Nov19 following direct instruction with the customer. Decision is in line with global regulatory standards, unrelated to current HK situation,” the bank stated.
At the rally, Fergus Leung, one of the rally’s organizers and member-elect in the city’s Kwun Lung district, told The Epoch Times that police’s move against Spark Alliance was politically motivated.
“We consider this a purely political accusation,” Leung said, adding that police acted because “they want to make a hit on the current Hong Kong protests.”
The rally was organized because Spark Alliance has greatly assisted protesters, he said.
Spark Alliance remains committed to support #HongKongProtesters. Organizer says the tentacles of the Chinese regime has infringed upon HK's free economy. Over 500 have turned out for the rally. #FiveDemandsNotOneLess pic.twitter.com/PFjAM0XdkX
— Frank Fang (@HwaiDer) December 23, 2019
Another goal of the rally was to call on foreign governments, especially the United States, to sanction Chinese and Hong Kong corporations that have worked with Hong Kong authorities to abrogate citizens’ freedoms, Leung said. Those include companies that have assisted the Hong Kong government with measures to monitor individuals, he said.
The results of next month’s presidential election in Taiwan may affect the movement in Hong Kong, Leung said. Voters will decide between Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and challenger Han Kuo-yu, of the Beijing-friendly Kuomingtang Party.
“If Taiwan falls to the wrong hand, I think it will have a very significant influence on the Hong Kong democratic movement, because we always see Taiwan as a very important backup support base for us,” Leung said, before adding that some Hong Kong protesters have fled to the island.
Another organizer, Sunny Cheung, a student activist, took the stage to read a declaration.
“Over the past two years, and in fact, the past six months in particular, Spark Alliance has helped countless protesters in Hong Kong,” Cheung said.
Cheung said the action against Spark Alliance indicates the regime is now targeting dissidents on the economic front.
“With this first case of arbitrary charge on a private organization, businesses, foreign or local, and even assets belonging to individuals will be targeted by the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] in the future,” he said. “As long as you are a dissident, you risk having your own money frozen, with an unfounded charge placed on you.”
Cheung demanded the Hong Kong government immediately withdraw its “political charge” against Spark Alliance.
He added: “This is the true color of the CCP that the free world must recognize. When our free economy is no longer free, Hong Kong will be but another Chinese city in which our own people should live in communism darkness for generations to come.”
A woman surnamed Auyeung, who works in the commercial trading sector, told The Epoch Times the organization is innocent.
“All of the donations [to the Spark Alliance] are hardworking money from us average citizens. The donation was not dirty money. [The police] said it was dirty money, ” Auyeung said.
“[Hong Kong’s] government, and the CCP, oppresses our core values, including our democracy and freedom,” she added.
Another woman surnamed Pong, a clerk, said she came to the rally hoping that the international community will learn about what has happened to Spark Alliance. She added that she’s displeased with Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam’s failure to answer protesters’ demands, and the police’s heavy-handed tactics against protesters.
A woman surnamed Hung, a public servant, said she wanted to tell the city government how she couldn’t understand its decision against the Spark Alliance. She added that the ongoing protests must move forward to safeguard the city’s freedom and democracy from the CCP’s encroachment.
Hung also urged Taiwanese voters to be careful in their selection of the president. She said that in district council elections last month, she was careful not to choose anyone with close ties to the CCP, since such a candidate could eventually put Hong Kong into a “trap.”
The evening rally wasn’t the first to support the embattled nonprofit. More than 100 people protested outside HSBC headquarters in Hong Kong’s financial district of Central on Dec. 20, shouting slogans such as “Save Spark Alliance, Protect the Protesters.”
On Dec. 23, more than 100 people gathered at IFC Mall in Central to voice support for Spark Alliance while condemning police violence against protesters.
At that rally, Tsang Kin-shing, a member-elect of the Eastern District Council, told the Hong Kong edition of The Epoch Times that the Hong Kong government is using the incident to create a “chilling effect,” aimed to stop people from donating and thus injure the protest movement.
Tsang said, however, that he believes the opposite will occur—more people will use different channels to help those in need of help and those who have been arrested.