One of Hong Kong’s last remaining pro-democracy activist groups has had its account with online payments processor PayPal terminated.
The League of Social Democrats says that PayPal, a multinational financial technology company headquartered in California and Nebraska, sent an email stating it can no longer provide its services to the activist group.
The group said PayPal Hong Kong Limited had sent an email on Sept. 19 about the termination and that it hasn’t been able to accept any new donations since.
The text of PayPal's email sent to the League of Social Democrats in September has been seen by VOA. It outlines the termination and says the decision is “final.”
"Unfortunately, upon review of your account we have determined there to be excessive risks involved. Therefore, we will no longer be able to provide our services to you. While we wish you the best of success in your future business endeavors, we respectfully ask that you seek another payment solution to process transactions on your behalf,” part of the email read.
Founded in 2006, the League of Social Democrats is one of the last functioning activist organizations in Hong Kong. Over the years, several of its core members have served jail terms after pressure from authorities over the group’s ideology and activism.
Although the league is still active, in today’s Hong Kong, civil society and activist groups are a rarity amid a political crackdown. At least 50 have shut down in the last two years, fearing the risks of violating a Beijing-imposed national security law.
Avery Ng, the group's former chairman, said the group feels “helpless” after PayPal’s decision.
“We feel helpless and [that there is] not much we can do. The political situation and pressure cause corporations to stop providing even basic normal services to opposition parties, further hindering basic fundraising activities.
“[We received] no warning. No response from them for further explanation. Only response on how to withdraw the remaining funds from the account. It needs to provide us and the public with a clear answer,” Ng told VOA. “PayPal is one of our key tools for online fundraising. Their unexpected and unexplained discussion hinders our effort to raise funds for our court cases in an already struggling environment.”
Ng was recently released from prison after serving a 12-month sentence for unauthorized assembly during anti-government protests three years ago.
He told VOA in August there is no guarantee about the future of the group, which depends on donations to operate. Its founding member, Leung Kwok-hung, also known as “Long Hair,” is currently in prison and facing a national security charge.
It remains unclear whether Hong Kong authorities asked PayPal to cancel the League of Social Democrats’ account. VOA has contacted the PayPal Hong Kong media relations department for comment but has yet to receive a reply.
PayPal recently came under scrutiny in the United States after the company updated its Acceptable Use Policy that would have charged a $2,500 penalty fee to users that spread misinformation. Amid criticism from advocates and politicians, the platform said the update was filed in error.
Anna Kwok, the strategy and campaign director at the Hong Kong Democracy Council, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, told VOA there is a lack of accountability for U.S. companies that may bow to pressure over politically sensitive issues.
“American companies in Hong Kong do not hesitate to kowtow to the regime, as they know the consequence of supporting the political crackdown is pathetically trivial. Together with the upcoming November 2nd global financial summit, where multinational financial sector giants enable and endorse the regime in Hong Kong, these recent developments expose a lack of accountability on American corporates,” she told VOA in an email.
This isn’t the first time a prominent pro-democracy activist in Hong Kong has faced complications in accessing funds from an international financial corporation.
Ted Hui, a former lawmaker with Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, had his HSBC bank accounts frozen in 2020 after the banking giant received a request from local authorities. Hui, who later fled the city, faces multiple charges in Hong Kong and last month was sentenced in absentia to three years and five months in jail for jumping bail. Hui fled to Britain before relocating to Australia.
Apple Daily, the defunct pro-democracy newspaper, also saw its financial assets frozen after some of its executives were charged under the security law, forcing the company to close in June 2021. Jimmy Lai, the media outlet’s founder, has been in prison since the end of 2020. He faces three charges under the security law and could face life in prison.