HONG KONG -- Hong Kong police on Thursday raided the city's museum commemorating the 1989 crackdown in China and apprehended the fifth and last remaining leader at large of the pro-democracy group that organizes the annual Tiananmen Square vigil.
The other four core members of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which operates the June Fourth Museum, had been arrested the day before on alleged violation of the national security law.
The National Security Department of the Hong Kong Police confirmed on Thursday night that it has arrested all five remaining board members. The statement did not specify any names, but Tsui Hong-kwong, the last core member not under custody who was able to slip away during Wednesday's roundup of the other leaders, is now under custody.
The police also announced that the top three leaders of the Alliance and the Alliance as an organization have been charged with "inciting subversion" under the national security law. This is one of the four offenses -- along with separatism, colluding with foreign forces, and terrorism -- under the law imposed by Beijing last June, which is punishable by up to life imprisonment.
The police started preparing for the museum raid Thursday morning, blocking off part of the road in front of the multi-tenant building that houses the museum in a busy commercial district in Mong Kok. In the statement, the police called the museum the Alliance's "headquarters," while it also searched the pro-democracy group's warehouse in a separate location. The force said it has seized documents, computers and promotion materials which have "suspected connection with the case." About 2.2 million Hong Kong dollars ($283,140) worth of the Alliance's assets was frozen by the police.
However, the police ended up seizing relics, posters and various other exhibits from the museum. After more than three hours, the police confiscated a full truckload of materials, including a portrait of Szeto Wah, the late founder of the alliance. A surveillance camera set up on the ceiling of the museum entrance was destroyed and found lying on the ground after the raid.
"I believe Hong Kong people will find it difficult to understand this raid, where there was nothing illegal [about the museum]," Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong, a former standing committee member of the pro-democracy group, told reporters as he witnessed the police essentially uprooting the facility. "The police definitely need a thorough explanation to the public and to the alliance."
The museum had already been shut down under orders of local food and hygiene authorities, just three days after reopening and two days before the 32nd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. The government then cited the lack of a proper license to entertain the public, in accordance with an ordinance originally promulgated in 1919 during British colonial rule.
Meanwhile, police hunted down Tsui, who had filed a judicial review on Tuesday to quash the police's request and restrain them from taking further action against the alliance.
Tsui's four peers -- Vice Chairwoman Chow Hang-tung, Simon Leung Kam-wai, Tang Ngok-kwon and Chan To-wai -- were arrested Wednesday morning after defying the police's Tuesday deadline to submit various pieces of information. They included personal data on all current and former members, minutes of board meetings, financial records, and information on the group's funding and links with specific overseas individuals and organizations, including the Washington-based National Democratic Institute.
The police allege that the alliance has been a "foreign or Taiwan agent," colluding with external forces.
The Alliance also confirmed on Thursday evening that it has received a notice from the police that prosecutors have officially charged its Chairman Lee Cheuk-yan, Vice Chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan and Chairwoman Chow with inciting subversion.
Lee and Ho are already serving 20 months and 18 months prison sentences, respectively, for their participation in unauthorized assemblies, including one on Oct. 1, 2019, when the Chinese Communist Party celebrated 70 years in power.
The group has been under increased pressure, especially since Luo Huining, Beijing's top representative here, referred to the pro-democracy group as the territory's "genuine archenemy" during an event in June celebrating the Communist Party's centennial. Although he did not mention the alliance by name, he referred to an organization advocating "the end of one-party dictatorship," which is the alliance's longstanding slogan.
The group had fired all staff by the end of July, while trimming the board's size to seven members from the original 20. But by Thursday, all of them had been taken behind bars.
In the city's district court on Thursday, 12 defendants pleaded guilty to participating in the Tiananmen crackdown commemoration in Victoria Park on June 4, 2020. That event was officially banned by police for the first time, citing social distancing rules under the pandemic.
Ho, as one of the dozen to plead guilty for inciting others to participate in an unauthorized assembly, said in court that even if the alliance is disbanded and the mass candlelight vigil prohibited, the spirit of commemoration would live in the hearts and minds of Hong Kong people. They are set to be sentenced next Wednesday.
The alliance has called for an extraordinary general meeting on Sept. 25 to discuss and decide whether to dissolve. Many other pro-democracy organizations in the territory have disbanded since the imposition of the national security law.
The court hearing of the eight other defendants in the same case who have not pleaded guilty will be held in November. They include Lee, Chow and Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, the founder of the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, which was forced out of circulation in Hong Kong in June.
While the contents of the June Fourth Museum were taken away by the police on Thursday, the museum's online version had opened early last month, after the alliance successfully collected HK$1.68 million from 1,186 individual donors via crowdfunding by last summer.
But the operation of the "June 4th Museum of Memory and Human Rights" has been designated to an independent team led by Chang Ping, a prominent Chinese journalist living in exile in Germany for the past decade, in order to stave off any influence of repression exerted against the alliance and its members.
Chang, who was part of the 1989 pro-democracy movement as a student at Sichuan University in the inland Chinese city of Chengdu, told Nikkei Asia in a recent interview that he vowed to maintain and expand the museum in cyberspace to reach more people.
"There are no limits to the capacity, and we are going to fully maximize that. It will give us a bigger possibility," he said, as he prepares for a major expansion, including the addition of English and simplified Chinese versions by the next Tiananmen crackdown commemoration on June 4 next year.
Additional reporting by Stella Wong.