Thousands gathered in downtown Hong Kong on Monday night for a rally to condemn a police crackdown on a major fundraising platform for anti-government protesters and to call for sanctions against HSBC, which shut down its account earlier.
Before the authorised rally began at 7pm in Central, there were minor scuffles between protesters and riot police at a nearby pedestrian underpass, when officers checked booths distributing masks to participants. As police left the scene, they were verbally abused by protesters.
The organiser estimated 45,000 joined the assembly in Edinburgh Place, near the bank’s Hong Kong headquarters. Police put the turnout at 3,300.
Last Thursday, police froze about HK$70 million (US$9 million) raised by activists via the Spark Alliance platform to support protesters and arrested four people for money laundering.
Officers suspect the funds were used for personal gain and other illegal activities, including participation rewards for young demonstrators.
But Sunny Cheung, one of the organisers of Monday’s “Sparking the World Afire Assembly” and spokesman for a group called Hong Kong Higher Education International Affairs Delegation, said the police’s action was arbitrary.
“This is actually detrimental to Hong Kong’s status as an international financial hub,” Cheung said. “We condemn the government for using politics to override the economy.”
The organiser also called for action against HSBC, which closed Spark Alliance’s bank account in November. Cheung urged the US government and businesses to sanction or boycott the banking giant.
Earlier, in a rare statement and without stating names, the city’s largest bank said the decision to shut down the account was in accordance with international regulatory standards.
Ventus Lau Wing-hong, another of the assembly’s organisers, said freezing the bank account would not lessen support for the protests.
“For any of us who have donated to Spark Alliance, we could now be labelled as criminals,” Lau said. “But that does not scare us.”
He said Spark Alliance was formed out of a belief for revolution, to support frontline protesters and go against the tyranny of political and business pressure.
A 52-year-old saleswoman, who gave her name as Catherine, said she had donated a few hundred dollars to Spark Alliance when she joined peaceful gatherings in the past.
“The money I donated came from my own hard work at my job, it’s not ‘black money’ at all,” she said. “Police are just using any excuse to cut off support for the young protesters.”
A clerk in her thirties, who only gave her surname as Cheung, made a one-off donation of about HK$1,000 to Spark Alliance via an interbank online payment system.
“Even though I made my donation through the bank, I still have a thin line of trust that my account activities will not be handed over to police,” she said.
Cheung, who holds an HSBC account, said she was considering switching to another bank.
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