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Hong Kong authorities are strangling funding channels for activists overseas, including in Australia, as China’s crackdown on the former liberal enclave targets small donations and independent media outlets.
Four people were arrested last week for donating between $1900 and $22,000 to activists Ted Hui and Nathan Law. Hui is now based in Australia and remains on the run from Hong Kong police for contempt of court and for urging Hongkongers to cast blank votes in rigged local elections.
Ted Hui has settled his family in Adelaide after fleeing Hong Kong.Credit: Eamon Gallagher
Hong Kong police said in a statement the four arrested, aged between 29 and 68, “were suspected of providing pecuniary assistance via [an] online crowdfunding platform to two wanted persons, who have engaged in secessionist activities and absconded overseas”.
“The fear is spreading everywhere,” said Hui. “It’s a move to spread the white terror continuously and to warn people they shouldn’t be donating money to people like me.”
The arrests occurred on the same day that Hong Kong placed a $HK1 million ($191,314) bounty on five pro-democracy activists living in exile, including YouTube hosts Johnny Fok and Tony Choi, as well as pro-democracy activists Simon Cheng, Hui Wing-ting and Joey Siu.
A joint statement from 80 Hong Kong civil society and human rights organisations on Wednesday said it was the latest escalation in transnational repression against Hongkongers, “many of whom have faced attacks and harassment from the Chinese Communist Party and its agents, across various jurisdictions”.
Hong Kong pro-democracy advocate Simon Cheng [left] with fellow activist Sunny Chou. Credit: Sunny Chou
Within days, the charges have had a chilling effect on fundraising for independent media outlets associated with the pro-democracy movement including the Hong Kong Law and Policy blog.
The blog, which covers national security trials, life inside Hong Kong prisons and the pro-democracy movement, has been blocked by authorities in Hong Kong, leaving local readers fearing they may be targeted as they race to cancel their subscriptions.
“If you are in HK and need to cancel for safety reasons but can’t, please message/email me and I’ll do it for you,” author Samuel Bickett posted on X.
The Hongkongers were arrested on December 13 after donating to Hui and Law’s Patreon, a Silicon Valley fundraising giant that has become a key revenue source for activists overseas. The pair use the donations to employ researchers and for advocacy work, including lobbying for foreign visa schemes for Hongkongers wanting to leave the former British colony.
Hui said he was concerned the details of some subscribers were visible to other members unless they opted out.
“If you are a subscriber yourself, you can see other subscribers’ information,” he said. “I suspect police have subscribed to my Patreon and looked for their information there.”
Patreon, which has more than 3 million monthly active subscribers, was contacted for comment.
International pressure has been growing in response to the arrests and the ongoing prosecution of Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, who went on trial this week on charges of sedition and breaches of national security laws imposed by Beijing in response to anti-government protests that rocked the city in 2019.
Jimmy Lai being led away in handcuffs in 2020. Credit: AP
The Hong Kong court will decide on Friday whether colonial-era charges over 161 allegedly seditious claims made by the newspaper will be allowed to stand after his defence counsel argued the charges had been laid more than six months after their publication.
Lai, who founded the Apple Daily newspaper, is also accused of inciting public hatred through his newspaper’s coverage and colluding with foreign forces after he allegedly called for sanctions to be imposed on the Chinese and Hong Kong governments in response to the crackdown between 2020 and 2021.
In Washington, a bipartisan congressional committee on China on Tuesday called for US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to sanction officials involved in the prosecution of activists, some of whom are now based in the United States.
“The egregious attempt to intimidate and silence US nationals engaged in peaceful political activism in the United States is outrageous and cannot be met with inaction,” the committee said.
Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee said international interference with the court process could pervert the course of justice.
“I think Hong Kong has a long tradition of the rule of law, and Hong Kong courts always adjudicate cases fairly and impartially,” he said.
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