Banks Block Hong Kong Democracy Protesters: Unexplained Account Closures Hinder Reintegration

Hong Kong's financial sector is facing concerns over the closure of bank accounts belonging to democracy protesters, raising concerns about civil rights and transparency.

Banks Block Hong Kong Democracy Protesters: Unexplained Account Closures Hinder Reintegration
A view of a city with tall buildings, by Nile Pereira via Unsplash, February 3rd, 2024


Marina Sáenz

Human Rights Researcher

Global Human Rights Defence


In a troubling development that raises profound questions about civil rights in Hong Kong, numerous democracy protesters imprisoned for their roles in the 2019 protests have encountered a startling obstacle upon their release: their bank accounts have been summarily closed by major financial institutions, including HSBC and Hang Seng Bank, without any explanation provided. This abrupt termination of banking services has left these individuals, already grappling with the challenges of reintegrating into society post-incarceration, in a precarious financial situation. Unable to access their funds or open new accounts easily, these former protesters are effectively marginalised from essential financial services crucial for employment, housing, and basic necessities. The closures not only impact the protesters themselves but also their families who were unable to access their accounts during their detention, highlighting a systemic issue with far-reaching implications. Beyond the immediate financial impact, this practice raises serious concerns about the accountability and transparency of Hong Kong's banking practices, particularly in light of international standards of due process and fair treatment. As Hong Kong continues to navigate its post-2019 political landscape, the plight of these individuals underscores the ongoing tensions between civil liberties and corporate interests, urging a reevaluation of the ethical responsibilities of financial institutions in a city renowned as a global financial hub.

The closures of bank accounts belonging to Hong Kong democracy protesters, exemplified by Castor Chan's experience with HSBC, reveal a troubling pattern of financial discrimination and opacity within the city's banking sector. Chan, who spoke exclusively to Hong Kong Free Press, detailed how his HSBC account was abruptly closed without explanation shortly after his release from a five-year sentence. This sudden disruption not only hindered his post-incarceration plans but also impeded his family's ability to manage his financial affairs during his detention. This lack of transparency extends beyond Chan’s case, affecting numerous other protesters and highlighting a broader issue that severely impacts their reintegration into society. Denied access to their funds and struggling to open new accounts, these individuals face significant barriers to accessing basic financial services essential for daily life. Furthermore, the banks' vague justifications, citing routine account reviews without providing specific reasons for closure, raise critical questions about due process and fairness in banking practices. This situation challenges Hong Kong’s reputation as a global financial hub committed to upholding international standards of transparency and equitable treatment.

This raises profound concerns regarding civil rights protections under international law. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ratified by China and applicable to Hong Kong, guarantees a range of fundamental rights crucial to a democratic society, including the rights to privacy, property, and due process. These rights are essential for individuals to participate fully in society and to safeguard against arbitrary interference by authorities, including financial institutions. The arbitrary closure of these accounts, without transparent justification, not only violates these rights but also contravenes principles of non-discrimination based on political beliefs or activities. Such actions by financial institutions risk marginalising individuals solely based on their association with political dissent, effectively restricting their access to essential financial services crucial for daily life and economic participation.

This situation underscores the urgent need for robust protections and oversight mechanisms to ensure that Hong Kong upholds its international obligations, safeguarding civil liberties and promoting a fair and accountable financial environment for all residents. 





Sources and further reading:

Hillary Leung. (June 10th, 2024). Exclusive: HSBC closed accounts of jailed 2019 democracy protesters without providing a reason. Hong Kong Free Press. (Accessed July 8th, 2024).