Hong Kong Civil Society Continues to Decline

After a massive crackdown on pro-democracy opposition in Hong Kong that saw dozens of activists arrested and imprisoned, the authorities are now turning their attention to the city’s various civil society organizations.

In recent months, several of Hong Kong’s leading opposition organizations have been dissolved, while repression has intensified there.

Following the 2019 anti-government protests, Beijing enacted a comprehensive national security law that prohibits acts such as secession, subversion and collusion with foreign powers. Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement has been curbed while street protests have been halted and political speech deemed offensive by Beijing has been banned.

Since the security law came into effect last year, at least 50 civil society organizations have disbanded, AFP news agency reports.

October 1 marks the 72nd anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, a holiday that is also a day of national celebration in China. But in Hong Kong, pro-democracy activists usually take advantage of this day to protest in the streets and call for political reform. This year, only a handful of demonstrators gathered in the streets and were stopped by the authorities. According to various reports, up to 8,000 police were on standby during the day.

In previous years, China’s National Day would keep Hong Kong’s civil society groups busy.

The Civil Rights Front, founded in 2002, is responsible for the biggest protests in Hong Kong that drew nearly 2 million people in June 2019. The group usually organizes demonstrations on key days in the city’s political calendar. But the organization was disbanded in August after being accused of violating Hong Kong’s national security law.

The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of China’s Patriotic Democratic Movement was once responsible for organizing the annual June 4 devotional event in memory of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, an event that usually drew thousands of people.

But the alliance dissolved last September, ending 32 years of activity, during which three of its leaders were imprisoned, facing a number of charges, including inciting secession.

Political analyst Joseph Chen, originally based in Hong Kong but now in New Zealand, praised the group but acknowledged there was “no room to hold on anymore” for Hong Kong’s opposition groups.

“This alliance may have a more symbolic value because its formation in 1989 led to the formation of various pro-democracy parties not long after. Its continued operation after the handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China in 1997 is considered a symbol of tolerance of the ‘one country, two systems model’,” he told Mouab.

Hang Tung-chow, the former vice chairman of the Hong Kong alliance and one of its three leaders now imprisoned, told Mouab last August that various opposition groups could still survive in the city, at least informally. [uh/ab]

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