The organizers in Hong Kong of a now-banned candlelight vigil marking the 1989 Tiananmen massacre voted to disband Saturday, following heavy pressure and a string of arrests of its leaders under a harsh national security law imposed on the city by the Chinese Communist Party.
The 32-year-old Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China stands accused of acting as the agent of a foreign power, with leaders Chow Hang-tung, Albert Ho, and Lee Cheuk-yan arrested on suspicion of “incitement to subvert state power,” and the group’s assets frozen.
At a special general meeting held at the June 4th Memorial Hall under heavy police watch in Hong Kong’s Mongkok, members voted 41-4 to disband after 32 years of supporting victims of the Tianamen killings, demanding accountability and advocating for an end to one-party rule.
The somber meeting began with a moment of silence for the victims of the massacre, with some members and staff wearing black mourning clothes with the slogan “For Freedom, Shared Destiny, and Struggle Together.”
“I do believe Hong Kong people, no matter [whether in an] individual capacity or other capacities, will continue commemorating June 4th as before,” Alliance secretary Richard Tsoi told reporters after the meeting.
Tsoi said he was confident that the regime would not be able to erase the memory and awareness of the events of June 4, 1989, which are not taught or widely discussed on the mainland as the result heavy censorship by the CCP.
The annual vigils the Alliance hosted often attracted over 100,000 people, but the gatherings were banned in 2020 and this year over what local authorities said was coronavirus risk.
The group is the latest in string of civil society groups to disband following investigation by national security police under the national security law imposed on Hong Kong by the CCP from July 1, 2020.
On Sept. 21, the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, which once campaigned for China’s embattled human rights lawyers, announced on its website that it had received a letter of enquiry from the Hong Kong Police dated Aug. 25, 2021 and “decided to dissolve in September 2021 and has already activated the voluntary liquidation procedure.”
The pro-democracy Confederation of Trade Unions (CTU) will vote on Oct. 3 on whether to disband after being denounced in the Beijing-backed media, a typical precursor to investigation under the national security law.
Erasing Hong Kong-China differences
The denunciations usually focus on accusations that a given activist group or non-government organization has done something that could be in breach of the law.
Several organizations, including protest march organizers the Civil Human Rights Front, the Professional Teachers’ Union, and Wall-fare, a prison support group for those in custody because of the 2019 protest movement, have disbanded following similar articles, or after being criticized by Hong Kong’s leaders.
Alliance leader Chow was arrested on Sept. 8 and denied bail, while Lee and Ho are already serving jail terms linked to their activism, while four other Alliance members, Tang Ngok-kwan, 53, Simon Leung, 36, Chan To-wai, 57, and Tsui Hon-kwong, 72, have been charged with “failure to comply with a notice to provide information.”
In letters to members from jail, Ho and Lee called on the group to consider the safety of its members and partners.
“Dear friends,” the identical letters dated Sept. 17 and 18 read. “We believe that the best way forward is for the Alliance to disband on its own initiative, given the current climate.”
China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office says the alliance incited hostility and hatred against the CCP and the central government and told media it supports Hong Kong government investigations of the group.
China and the Kong Kong government have moved swiftly to erase the large gap between the CCP-ruled mainland and the once free-wheeling port city in civil and political rights, as well as media and academic freedom.
Kong Kong police have targeted dozens of civil society groups, journalists, rights activists, and protesters under the National Security Law for Hong Kong.
The law forms part of Beijing’s claims that recent waves of popular protest for greater democracy and against the erosion of Hong Kong’s promised freedoms were instigated by hostile foreign powers intent on undermining CCP rule and destroying social stability in Hong Kong.
Jimmy Lai and several senior journalists at the now-defunct Apple Daily face charges of “collusion with foreign forces” under the law, after the paper called in editorials for sanctions against Chinese and Hong Kong officials.
Reported by RFA’s Cantonese Service. Written in English by Paul Eckert.