HSBC Denies Bank Accounts for Hong Kong Democracy Activist

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Hong Kong Democracy Activist 'Denied Bank Accounts' by HSBC Joshua Wong speaks to the media after a vote at the city's legislature in Hong Kong, June 18, 2015.

Hong Kong student leader Joshua Wong accused HSBC of "political censorship" on Wednesday after he was denied permission to set up bank accounts for himself and his fledgling political party.

Wong said the bank turned down two separate applications to set up accounts, one in joint names for his new political party and one for his personal use.

"They may think I'm quite politically sensitive, and they need to adopt political censorship," Wong, 19, told Agence France-Presse.

HSBC gave no detailed reasons for the refusal, repeating instead that the decision was for "business reasons." HSBC operates more than 170 branches across the internal border in mainland China, he said.

The setback for Wong comes amid a political war of words over the advocacy of some young activists for independence for the former British colony. Hong Kong was promised that its existing freedoms would continue under the terms of the 1997 handover to Beijing.

Civic Passion member held

Wong's banking woes come as Hong Kong police detained Alvin Cheng, a member of the political group Civic Passion, on suspicion of access to a computer with dishonest or criminal intent and theft, government broadcaster RTHK reported.

The police detained Alvin Cheng after he posted a video on his Facebook page calling for books using simplified Chinese to be removed from the city's libraries.

Despite a mini-constitution guaranteeing freedom of expression, Hong Kong officials have recently warned of "limits" to free speech after a new political group, the Hong Kong National Party (HKNP), announced it would campaign in the forthcoming legislative elections on a pro-independence platform, and against the Basic Law that underpins the city's legal system.

The growing public debate around independence, which is often broached by younger activists who, like Wong, were deeply involved in the 2014 Occupy Central pro-democracy movement, also sparked horrified responses from Chinese officials.

Wong told RFA that calls for independence only emerged in Hong Kong after Beijing ruled out fully democratic elections for the city, in an Aug. 31, 2014 decree that allowed everyone a vote, but only for a slate of candidates picked by a pro-China committee.

Hong Kong's Legislative Council (LegCo) voted that electoral reform plan down last June, and partial democratic electoral arrangements remain in place.

'Patriotic education'

Since disbanding the academic activist group Scholarism, which came to prominence amid a 2012 campaign against Beijing's "patriotic education" program aimed at bringing Communist Party-style education into Hong Kong's schools, Wong has set up his own political party called Demosisto.

The group plans to field candidates in LegCo elections later this year, and has pledged to work for "self-determination." China pledged not to interfere in the running of Hong Kong, under a pledge known as the 'one country, two systems' policy.

But the recent 'disappearances' of five booksellers who were planning an expose on Chinese President Xi Jinping, one of them from their workplace within Hong Kong's separate jurisdiction, have sparked concerns that Beijing is no longer keeping that promise.

A string of violent attacks and threats targeting outspoken media personalities, as well as repeated comments from Chinese officials and state media on the city's vibrant political scene, have added to concerns that the city's autonomy may be a thing of the past.

"The trend towards independence for Hong Kong is occurring because there are no other options left," Wong said. "Under Chinese rule, we can't enjoy proper democracy or autonomy."

Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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