More Hong Kong Civil Society Groups Disband Under Pressure of National Security Law

Civil society groups in Hong Kong continue to crumble under the weight of the National Security Law. The latest set of victims come from the spheres of media, civil rights, politics, and education, further proving President Xi’s intent to root out “hostile forces” from every part of society. 

On Wednesday, police arrested four leaders of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China and charged them with inciting subversion against state power. The alliance was responsible for organizing the annual Tiananmen Square vigil in Hong Kong. Authorities have accused the alliance of colluding with foreign governments and have frozen HK$2.2 million (US$282,050) of its assets, while its members have openly defied police demands for information under a national security probe. Chow Hang-tung, Vice-chair of the Hong Kong Alliance, emphasized that the alliance would not be cowed: “We want to make it clear that the intimidation stops with us. We will not help you spread this terror.” Helen Davidson at the Guardian described how police also raided the June 4th Museum, which was run by the alliance:

On Thursday morning police officers were pictured carrying dozens of blue metal tubs into the museum’s Mong Kok building. Local media filmed officers removing items and loading them into a truck, including exhibit display panels and large cardboard cutouts.

The museum first opened a permanent exhibit in 2014 and closed a little over two years later, reportedly due to pressure from the building’s owners. In April 2019 it reopened at a new location in Mong Kok.

But it has been shut since June, when police announced an investigation into claims it was operating without the appropriate license, three days after it had opened a new exhibition attended by hundreds of people. At the time, the Alliance said it was closing to ensure the safety of the public and its staff, and that if it reopened it would be separated from the Alliance to operate independently. [Source]

眾新聞 CitizenNews @hkcnews_com

The National Security Department of the Hong Kong Police Force search the June Fourth Museum in Mong Kok. Starting from 10:30 this morning, National Security Department officers could be seen arriving at the June Fourth Museum with a large number of plastic containers. Senior Superintendent Li Guihua of the National Security Department was also present. The police blocked all entrances and exits to the building, restricting the movement of building staff and personnel.

The police carried away a number of display panels from the June Fourth Museum, including cardboard cutouts of Szeto Wah, the late founder of the Hong Kong Alliance; former CCP leader Zhao Ziyang; and the Goddess of Democracy. [Chinese]

In the media sphere, the remaining board members of Next Digital announced on Sunday their intention to resign and liquidate the company. The company’s flagship newspaper, Apple Daily, shut down in June after police raided its headquarters, the culmination of a long campaign to force the newspaper out of business. Its founder, Jimmy Lai, is currently imprisoned on multiple charges of illegal assembly in connection with the Hong Kong protest movement, and is facing three additional charges under the National Security Law. Next Digital’s board hopes that its liquidation will allow over 700 staff members to receive paychecks that have been withheld since authorities froze the company’s bank accounts in June. In its statement, the board expressed indignity over the lack of due process

We observe that the events affecting the Company and its people following the invocation of the National Security Law occurred despite there having been no trials and no convictions. Under this new law, a company can be forced into liquidation without the involvement of the courts. 

We have concluded that the best interests of shareholders, creditors, employees and other stakeholders will be served by an orderly liquidation… 

The Hong Kong government has never indicated which articles published by Apple Daily allegedly violated the National Security Law. This uncertainty created a climate of fear, resulting in many resignations among the remaining staff at the Company in Hong Kong, including those responsible for the regulatory compliance duties of a publicly traded company. [Source]

On the same day that Next Digital announced its liquidation, Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) axed its longstanding current affairs television show City Forum, in the latest example of the public broadcaster’s mutilation. As the South China Morning post reported, pro-establishment figures claimed that the 41-year-old show—which brought together politicians, academics, and other opinion leaders—was biased against Beijing, while critics viewed its termination as an attempt to silence dissenting voices. City Forum will be replaced in its Sunday night time slot by a mainland historical drama highlighting Communist victories in the Chinese Civil War. Rhoda Kwan of the Hong Kong Free Press recounted how RTHK has been gutted since Beijing forced in new leadership:

City Forum is the latest RTHK current affairs programme to be cancelled since a new Director of Broadcasting with no previous media experience took the helm in March. Since then, it has also scrubbed its online archives, purged its Twitter account, launched a chat show hosted by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, and issued directives to staff to use Beijing-approved wording.

Lam has also announced a partnership between the broadcaster and Chinese state media CCTV to air more mainland-produced shows to instil a sense of patriotism among Hong Kong viewers.

RTHK has seen an exodus of senior editorial staffers since the change in leadership, with ex-TV host and veteran journalist Steve Vines fleeing the city last month. [Source]

In the civil rights sphere, the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund also halted its operations on the very same day. While it had previously stated its intention to remain open until the end of October, organizers decided to cease accepting donations earlier than expected, when the company processing the fund’s payments summarily froze its bank account. Since its creation in 2019, the organization has provided protestors with legal assistance and funds for medical treatment, psychological counseling, and emergency relief. In early September, police opened a national security investigation into the fund. Chris Lau from the South China Morning Post tallied the significant financial support the fund has received from and provided to Hong Kong citizens:

According to the fund’s annual report for 2021, some 2,500 people donated to it every month.

[…] The fund’s balance was HK$5 million as of August 19. But by Monday, the figure had climbed to HK$7.2 million.

[…] Since it was founded in 2019, the fund has distributed more than HK$243 million (US$31.2 million) to protesters facing prosecution or financial hardship as a result of the 2019 social unrest. [Source]

The Hong Kong Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) is another civil society organization that has recently disbanded. Founded in 2002, the group rallied over half a million people to protest the original national security draft law in 2003, and it has remained a powerful organizing force ever since, earning it the label “radical opposition force” from the Global Times. Despite initial assurances that the current national security law would not be applied retroactively, authorities are investigating the group for rallies held last year; even though the group has disbanded, authorities have stated that it would be “daydreaming” to think that the group could still escape prosecution. Its convener, Figo Chan, has been detained since May for “organizing an unlawful assembly.” Amnesty International’s China Director Joshua Rosenzweig described CHRF’s dissolution as part of the National Security Law’s domino effect crushing civil society:

“The Hong Kong authorities’ assault on human rights has ramped up with these attacks. Along with political parties, media outlets and unions, we sadly now must add NGOs to the list of those targeted simply for doing their legitimate work.

“The pattern of self-censorship seen this week also signals a concerning domino effect, as Hong Kong’s draconian national security law has triggered an accelerating disappearance of independent civil society groups from the city.

“The CHRF has organized, often in close collaboration with the police, large-scale peaceful rallies in Hong Kong for 20 years without being accused of breaking any law. Its demise is yet more evidence that Hongkongers’ rights to freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly can no longer be taken for granted under the authorities’ obsession with ‘national security.’” [Source

In the political sphere, the Hong Kong Democratic Party has found itself in a worsening bind. Reforms to the electoral system imposed by Beijing in March now ensure that only “patriots” who “respect” the Chinese Communist Party rule can run for office, and the National Security Law has been interpreted to prohibit genuinely free political speech. However, the opposition party may not even be allowed to boycott the upcoming legislative elections without facing punishment under the very same law. A prominent pro-Beijing figure published an op-ed on Sunday warning the party that “if they forcefully stop members from running in elections, it’s equivalent to challenging and destroying the new election system, and will possibly violate the Hong Kong national security law.” In order to paint the elections as legitimate, authorities may force some democrats to participate, whether they want to or not.

In the education sphere, the Hong Kong Professional Teachers Union disbanded in mid-August, opening the floodgates for more drastic changes to Hong Kong’s education system. Chinese state-media called the 95,000-member union a poisonous “tumor” that must be eradicated, thus hastening the end of the organization and its 48-year history. A recent survey, conducted by the union before it disbanded, revealed that 40 percent of primary and secondary school teachers had expressed the intention to quit their jobs due to increasing political pressure. Meanwhile, authorities have introduced new workshops and curricula dedicated to the national security law. The Hong Kong Secretary of Education explained that these would encourage “learning activities, such as raising the national flag and the regional flag as well as playing and singing the national anthem” in order to “help develop students into good citizens who have a sense of national identity.” At the university level, several universities have made new, mandatory national security courses for all incoming students.

 

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