‘Growing risks’: Hong Kong pro-democracy group scales down

Organisation known for annual Tiananmen vigil lets go of all paid staff and halves its steering committee

One of Hong Kong’s most established pro-democracy civic organisations has said it is letting go its paid staff and halving the size of its steering committee after Beijing stepped up its crackdown on opposition activity.

The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China is best known for its annual rally and candlelight vigil remembering those killed in the bloody 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

The group said seven of its 14 remaining steering committee members had decided to step down in the face of “growing political and legal risks”. Of the seven members remaining, three are in jail for protest-related activities: the chair, Lee Cheuk-yan, and vice-chairs Albert Ho Chun-yan and Chow Hang-tung.

Letting go of staff was to “ensure their safety” and would take effect at the end of the month. While the 32-year-old group said the changes would affect its operations, it vowed that “regardless of whatever difficulties or challenges we face, the alliance will continue to grit our teeth and move onwards one step at a time”.

Following months of anti-government protests in 2019, Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong in 2020. Criteria for elected officials have been narrowed to only those who meet a loosely defined standard of patriotism. The legislative council has been reorganised to ensure an overwhelming majority for pro-Beijing delegates, while most of the city’s leading opposition voices have been jailed, intimidated into silence or have fled abroad.

The city’s last remaining pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, was forced to close after authorities arrested staff and froze assets. While the city is still a major business and financial hub, many Hongkongers are leaving and some multinational companies have begun relocating their operations and staff.

The annual 4 June commemoration of the 1989 crackdown had been attended by tens of thousands, along with a 1 July pro-democracy march and rally marking Hong Kong’s handover from British to Chinese rule.

Both have been banned for the past two years because of Covid-19 restrictions, and there is no indication whether authorities will allow them to be held in future.

While China says the new restrictions are targeted measures aiming to restore order and ensure Hong Kong’s future prosperity, critics at home and abroad say they are a betrayal of Beijing’s commitment to maintain Hong Kong’s civil liberties for 50 years after the handover.

With Associated Press

Staff and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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