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Hong Kong group behind July 1 rallies faces giant task to fend off police attack on its legitimacy

The Hong Kong group responsible for organizing many of the city’s biggest and most iconic pro-democracy rallies is facing a mammoth task to fend off police accusations that it failed to properly follow registration rules as far back as 2006.

The Civil Human Rights Front — a broad coalition of unions, political parties, religious groups and political activists — has been accused of breaching the Societies Ordinance and ordered to hand over information about its sources of income and expenditure since its establishment.

The request was received by the front’s convener, Figo Chan, as he was reporting to police about a separate offense on Monday. The group, best known as the organizer of the annual July 1 pro-democracy marches, was affiliated with almost all democratic political parties in the city.

The Monday move is believed to be an attempt to delegitimize the group as part of a broader scheme to further crack down on Hong Kong’s civil liberties and squelch once-tolerated dissenting voices. The July 1 march in 2019 drew more than half a million peaceful protesters, the biggest attendance by the city’s 7.4 million people since the rallies began almost two decades ago.

The letter, penned by Chan Yee-lai, assistant commissioner of police and assistant societies officer, required the organization to provide information about its sources of income, its expenditures, bank accounts used to receive any funds or make payments, as well as the dates and locations of all assemblies it has held since September 2006.

Chan Yee-lai demanded the group explain its apparently continued operation after it applied to cancel its registration as a society on Sept. 11, 2006. She said that by continuing to operate after that date, it could be in violation of Article 5 of the Societies Ordinance.

Under the article, a local society must apply for registration or exemption from registration within a month of its establishment. The organizer faces a penalty of up to HK$10,000 (US$1,300) for a first conviction for failure to comply, and three months in prison with an additional fine of HK$300 for each day during which the offense continues on subsequent conviction.

The forum also had to give a written explanation of why it did not reapply for a society registration.

The forum was seeking legal advice and had no other comment on the letter, said Figo Chan.

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