Hong Kong vigil organiser downsizes amid ‘dire’ political climate

Pro-democracy Hong Kong Alliance set up in wake of Tiananmen Square crackdown says will ‘persevere’ with smaller team

The Hong Kong Alliance organised the annual Tiananmen Square vigil in Hong Kong. The gathering has been banned for the past two years and people have lit candles or held private remembrances instead [File: Isaac Lawrence/AFP]

One of Hong Kong’s most prominent civil society groups is letting all its staff go and halving the size of its organising committee in response to what it calls a “dire political environment” in the territory, a year since the imposition of the National Security Law (NSL).

The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China (Hong Kong Alliance) said it had been “particularly affected by the increasingly severe and obvious political repression” and that after much discussion had decided to halve the size of its Standing Committee to seven and, to ensure their safety, dismiss all staff from the end of July.

Three of the current members of the Standing Committee are already in custody.

“Hong Kong Alliance recognizes that the decrease in the number of Standing Committee members, the dismissal of all employees, and the withdrawal of some members of the organization in recent months will have an impact on future work and asks for the understanding of all parties,” the group said in a statement, pledging to continue its struggle. “However, even in the face of such difficulties and challenges, Hong Kong Alliance will continue to persevere step by step.”

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy groups and elected politicians have been under pressure since China imposed the security legislation at the end of June last year and dozens have been arrested as alleged threats to national security.

The Hong Kong Alliance, whose annual Tiananmen Square vigil attracted tens of thousands in 2019 before the government banned it – blaming the coronavirus, has been the target of persistent criticism from pro-Beijing groups. The military crackdown on the 1989 mass protests in Beijing, is thought to have left hundreds if not thousands of people dead.

The broadly worded NSL punishes activities deemed subversion, terrorism, collusion with foreign forces and secession with up to life in prison.

Political activist and barrister Chow Hang-tung speaks to the media after her arrest on June 5. She is now in jail having been denied bail [File: Peter Parks/AFP]

The alliance’s chair Lee Cheuk-yan, and two vice-chairs Albert Ho and Chow Hang-tung are all in jail.

Chow has been denied bail in relation to a charge of “incitement” for this year’s banned vigil while Lee and Ho are serving 18 months in prison in connection with a protest on October 1, 2019.

“I hope by now Hong Kongers realise only a democratic China can ensure their rights, and that the fight for democracy here is part of the larger fight,” Chow told Al Jazeera in an interview shortly before she was arrested.

On Monday, broadcaster RTHK said five more people had been arrested in connection with an alleged pro-independence group called “Returning Valiant”.

The arrests follow the detention of nine people last week, including six secondary school students, for an alleged bomb plot.

Source: Al Jazeera