Hong Kong pro-democracy group downsizes amid crackdown

HONG KONG — One of Hong Kong’s most established pro-democracy civic organizations said it was laying off paid staff and halving the size of its steering committee after Beijing stepped up its crackdown on opposition activities in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.

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

The group said in a statement on Saturday that seven of its remaining 14 members of the steering committee had decided to step down in the face of “growing political and legal risks.” Of the remaining seven members, three are currently in prison for activities related to the protest: President Lee Cheuk-yan as well as Vice-Presidents Albert Ho Chun-yan and Chow Hang-tung.

The dismissal of the staff was aimed at “ensuring their safety” and would take effect at the end of the month, the statement said. While the 32-year-old group said the changes would affect their operations, they vowed that “whatever difficulties or challenges we face, the alliance will continue to grit its teeth and move forward step by step.”

Hong Kong Alliance in Support of China’s Democratic Patriotic Movements Vice President Chow Hang Tung poses with a candle ahead of the 32nd anniversary of the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, in Hong Kong, on June 3, 2021. (Lam Yik / Reuters)

After months of anti-government protests in 2019, Beijing last year imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong. The criteria for elected officials have been reduced to those who meet a loosely defined standard of patriotism. The Legislative Council has been reorganized to ensure an overwhelming majority for pro-Beijing delegates, while most of the city’s main opposition voices have been jailed, silenced, or moved abroad to seek asylum .

The city’s last pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, was forced to shut down after authorities arrested staff and froze assets. While the city is still a major commercial and financial center, many Hong Kongers are leaving and some multinational companies have started to relocate their operations and staff due to legal issues.

The annual June 4 commemoration of the 1989 crackdown brought together tens of thousands of people, as well as a pro-democracy march and rally on July 1 marking Hong Kong’s transition from British rule to Chinese rule .

Both have been banned for the past two years due to COVID-19 restrictions, and there is no indication whether authorities will allow their detention in the future.

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

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