Hong Kong pro-democracy group disbands under government pressure

Kari Lindberg and Denise Wee
Bloomberg News

Hong Kong’s largest protest group has disbanded, saying on Sunday that it is unable operate in the face of government pressure.

The Civil Human Rights Front, organizer of many of the largest rallies during the city’s 2019 pro-democracy protest, said on its Facebook page Sunday that it had to disband after its convenor, Figo Chan, was imprisoned. The CHRF will donate its HK$1.6 million ($205,579) of assets to “appropriate organizations,” it said.

The Civil Human Rights Front, which organized some of the biggest protests during the months of upheaval in Hong Kong in 2019, is dissolving, the group said Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021.

Hong Kong authorities have ramped up pressure on people they accuse of anti-government actions following the enactment of the national security law last year. Some 76 pro-democracy activists, former politicians and journalists are awaiting trial after being charged under the legislation, according to the security bureau.

The CHRF, organizer of many of the largest rallies during the city’s 2019 pro-democracy protest, and other groups have come under increased pressure as authorities widen the scope of their crackdown following the enactment of the national security law last year.

The CHRF announcement comes days after Hong Kong’s police chief warned that the group may have broken the city’s national security laws, and violated others by not properly registering with the government’s Companies Registry, Hong Kong Police Force Commissioner Raymond Siu said in an interview with Beijing-backed newspaper Ta Kung Pao.

Police on Sunday said in a statement that they had “noticed” the CHRF announcement and that officers were also following up on the group’s violation of the Societies Ordinance, after it failed to produce information requested.

Hong Kong Liaison Office, Beijing’s main body overseeing the city, supported the authorities in a statement on its website Sunday. “We strongly support the SAR Government and the police in prosecuting the alleged violations of the law by CHRF and severely punishing the culprits,” it said.

On Tuesday, the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union, the city’s largest teacher’s association announced their decision to disband days after Siu said the police would “definitely investigate” any allegations of a national security offense involving the union. The Education Bureau formally severed ties with the group days after the Chinese state media called the union a “malignant tumor that must be eradicated” and accused it of fomenting unrest on July 31.

Hong Kong Democracy Council, a nonprofit organization, said both the teachers union and the Civil Human Rights Front have been forced to “voluntarily” disband to avoid police raids, freezing of assets and arrests.

Hong Kong’s national security law has triggered an “accelerating disappearance” of independent civil society groups in the city, Amnesty International said Sunday.

“The Hong Kong authorities’ assault on human rights has ramped up,” Joshua Rosenzweig, head of Amnesty’s China team, said in a statement. “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.”