Activists hold a candlelight vigil at Hong Kong's Victoria Park on June 4, 2009, to mark the 20th anniversary of the crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Photo: Reuters

A Hong Kong group set up in May 1989 to support student protests in Tiananmen Square has been criticized by a pro-Beijing camp for allegedly violating the national security law, a charged accusation amid a rising clampdown on the city’s democracy and rights.

The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements, a non-profit organization with the stated goals of rehabilitating China’s democracy movement and pursuing accountability for the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, has overlapping members with the local Democratic Party. 

Whether or not the group is directly in Beijing’s crosshairs is unclear. But a critical article written by Tian Feilong, an associate professor at Beijing’s Beihang University Law School and director of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, signals potential trouble on the horizon.

Tian alleged in his article that the Alliance was a part of the West’s alleged agenda of sparking so-called “color revolutions” in pursuit of global democratization and that it had received sponsorship and support from overseas Chinese democratic movements and anti-China foreign powers.

Citing one of the Alliance’s five main slogans that calls for “ending one-party dictatorship,” Tian wrote in the Hong Kong Commercial Daily on Monday that the Alliance was not a separatist group but rather a political subversion group that had reputedly colluded with foreign powers.

Tian Feilong and Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam in a file photo. Photo: CGTN

The national security law, imposed by Beijing earlier this year in response to last year’s street protests, criminalizes “secession, subversion and collusion with foreign powers,” though the law does not explicitly define what is meant by collusion.

The Alliance has operated in Hong Kong since 1997 under the city’s Basic Law, which protects opposition groups’ political rights in the territory, Tian noted. However, the Alliance failed to obey the law and turned its subversive intent into actual resistance, threatening the constitutional order of one-country, two-systems and national security, he alleged.

Tian said the Hong Kong government should thus use all legal tools at its disposal, including the national security law, to punish and prosecute the Alliance. He said the Security Bureau could also invoke the Societies Ordinance to stop the Alliance’s operations.

Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, a pro-Beijing lawmaker from the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong and a member of the Basic Law Committee, said that the Alliance’s call for an end to “one-party dictatorship” was sensitive in sight of China’s one-party political system.

Leung suggested that the Alliance should change its slogans to avoid saying something that could promote “overthrowing the Chinese regime.”

Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, chairperson of the New People’s Party and a former Secretary for Security, said it was necessary to investigate whether the Alliance had violated the national security law. Ip added that any such investigation was not aimed to end the annual June 4 mourning activities the Alliance helps to organize in commemorating the Tiananmen massacre.

Alliance chairman Lee Cheuk-yan denied the allegations and criticized Tian for trying to threaten people with the national security law, which came into force on June 30. Lee said the Alliance would continue to chant its slogans as democracy was still the best choice for China’s people in his estimation.

He said although Hong Kong had banned this year’s June 4 candlelight vigil for public health reasons and prosecuted a group of participants who flouted the ban, the Alliance would continue to organize the vigil event next year.

Alliance chairman Lee Cheuk-yan (C) at a protest. Image: AFP

Alliance secretary Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong, meanwhile, said Tian failed to provide evidence by accusing the Alliance of colluding with foreign powers. More broadly, Tsoi claimed that Beijing sought to create a chilling effect on freedom of speech in Hong Kong through the new law.

Lau Siu Kai, a pro-Beijing academic and vice president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said Tian’s criticism of the Alliance was an opinion not established fact. Lau added that it was normal for mainland scholars to raise concerns about Hong Kong’s activist groups that called for an end to one-party rule.

Eric Cheung, director of clinical legal education at the University of Hong Kong, said Tian could be testing Hong Kong’s response to the allegation as his views did not necessarily reflect Beijing’s official stance. Cheung said it remained unclear why the Alliance was now accused of violating the law as it had been running similar activities for many years.

Indeed, the Alliance has organized an annual march in late May and a vigil on June 4 since 1990. It also sets up booths at the Lunar New Year Fair selling T-shirts and flowers to raise funds to support its operations. On Tuesday, the Alliance successfully won bids to run several booths at next year’s Lunar New Year Fair.

Zhang Xiaoming, the then-head of the Liaison Office and incumbent deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, told pro-democracy lawmakers in a closed-door meeting in September 2014 that the fact that the Alliance was allowed to operate and field elected as legislators showed Beijing’s inclusiveness.

Chinese officials have for years ignored the Alliance’s slogan of “ending one-party rule” by claiming that China was not run only by just the Communist Party but rather with many smaller democratic parties.

Read: Mixed reaction to Biden victory in Beijing, HK

Asia Times Financial is now live. Linking accurate news, insightful analysis and local knowledge with the ATF China Bond 50 Index, the world's first benchmark cross sector Chinese Bond Indices. Read ATF now.