Hong Kong authorities have raided the city’s Tiananmen massacre museum a day after arresting four members of the civil society group that ran it.
The raid is the latest act by police in a sweeping crackdown on dissent and civil society groups that do not toe a pro-Beijing line.
The June 4th Museum, which has for two years displayed information and historical items related to the massacre of student protesters in Beijing on 4 June 1989, is run by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which has been accused of foreign collusion under the national security law.
On Thursday morning police officers were pictured carrying dozens of blue metal tubs into the museum’s Mong Kok building. Local media filmed officers removing items and loading them into a truck, including exhibit display panels and large cardboard cutouts.
The museum first opened a permanent exhibit in 2014 and closed a little over two years later, reportedly due to pressure from the building’s owners. In April 2019 it reopened at a new location in Mong Kok.
But it has been shut since June, when police announced an investigation into claims it was operating without the appropriate licence, three days after it had opened a new exhibition attended by hundreds of people. At the time, the Alliance said it was closing to ensure the safety of the public and its staff, and that if it reopened it would be separated from the Alliance to operate independently.
Authorities have accused the 32-year-old Alliance, which also ran Hong Kong’s annual candlelit vigil, of foreign collusion. Four senior leaders – the vice-chair Chow Hang-tung and standing committee members Simon Leung, Tang Ngok-kwan and Chan To-wai – were arrested on Wednesday for refusing to hand over information about the group’s membership and finances.
The US and UK governments condemned the arrests. The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said the arrests were politically motivated and “a blatant abuse of power”.
The UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said the arrests were “another chilling demonstration of how the national security law is being used by Beijing to dismantle civil society and stifle political dissent in Hong Kong”.
The alliance had already scaled down in an attempt to protect itself from persecution. Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho are among numerous high-profile activists serving prison terms over their roles in the 2019 pro-democracy protests that roiled Hong Kong, and on remand for other charges.
At the time police raided the museum, a group of 12 people, including the former alliance vice-chair Ho, appeared in court, pleading guilty to charges relating to the 2020 vigil, which had been banned by authorities citing the pandemic.
“Why did [the Alliance] still continue to commemorate June 4? In short, it is due to the moral commitment and conscientious duty willing to be taken by the Hong Kong people,” Ho told the court during mitigation, according to local media.
“In the mainland, open discussion of June 4 has always been forbidden in the public arena … On the other hand, in this small city of Hong Kong, we speak as the conscience for the whole nation, protect the truth of history and the dignity of the people.”