‘Even calling for human rights may cross a red line’

Political commentator Chung Kim-wah said on Tuesday that it should not be a crime for people to call on the authorities to respect human rights, but unfortunately nobody knows where the red lines are these days.

Chung’s comment comes after the police accused pro-democracy protest organiser, the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), of violating the Societies Ordinance by not registering itself with the force.

Writing to the group, the force asked, among other things, why the CHRF took part in a joint statement to the United Nations last December, demanding that the Beijing and Hong Kong governments respect human rights.

Chung said the police move was clearly part of Beijing’s continued purge of pro-democracy groups in the territory, given how the CHRF was able to mobilise large numbers of people for demonstrations.

He said he could not see how the group’s appeal for human rights to be respected could amount to a national security law violation, but he suspected the police might be fishing for more evidence against the CHRF.

“It’s not easy for the government to make use of the national security law directly, to say that this is something subversive. But maybe, it’s trying to make the front provide more information or evidence,” for the government to consider if there’s any room for further investigation”, Chung said.

The academic also noted that the police’s case against the CHRF comes after state-affiliated media outlet Ta Kung Pao called for the group to be outlawed because it is not a registered society.

A former convenor of the CHRF, Chung Chung-fai, said he found it strange that the police are suddenly asking so many questions about the group, after having approved its many marches and rallies over the years.

“If the police thought we were an illegal organisation, they wouldn’t hold so many meetings with us [over marches], working well together for more than a decade, right?” the unionist said.

Chung Chung-fai said the force must have known whether the CHRF was registered or not, because they are in charge of the process.

He said that in 2006, the group had registered as a society, but the matter had not been discussed by all members. A vote on the issue was later taken and the CHRF subsequently decided to withdraw its registration.

The unionist said some members had argued that the registration was unnecessary because the Basic Law guarantees freedom of association, while some believed that the move was redundant because police were fine with no registration.