As Hong Kong’s Civil Society Buckles, One Group Tries to Hold On


HONG KONG — Unions have folded. Political events have shut down. Independent media retailers and civil rights teams have disappeared. The Hong Kong authorities, its authority backed totally by Beijing, is shutting down the town’s civil society, as soon as probably the most vibrant in Asia, one group at a time.

But one group, the Hong Kong Journalists Association, has refused to fold, at the same time as Hong Kong’s safety secretary repeatedly singles it out for public criticism.

“We will try to fight to the last moment,” mentioned Ronson Chan, the affiliation’s chairman. “But honestly, it’s a gamble. How cruelly will the Beijing government treat us? We know the history of journalists in the People’s Republic of China.”

The authorities have used a nationwide safety legislation, which was launched final yr after months of widespread antigovernment protest, to silence dissent. Dozens of teams have been pressured to disband.

Many face investigations. The police have arrested the leaders of some teams and have used the safety legislation to pressure them to disclose information about membership and funding. Some teams have been the targets of assaults from officers and state-controlled newspapers.

Neither a part of the federal government nor the non-public sector, civil society supplies a bulwark towards the excesses of each. It provides folks a means to be heard when the powers that be are towards them and helps responds to issues governments received’t deal with.

The actions towards the labor unions and nonprofit organizations attain past Hong Kong, too. Because of the town’s relative freedom, it features as the middle for efforts to shield rights in China and the broader area. But that standing is eroding underneath the crackdown.

“These groups were important not just to Hong Kong or even China, but to all of Asia,” mentioned Maya Wang, a senior China researcher for Human Rights Watch. “Now, bit by bit, that fabric of civil society is being taken apart.”

Human Rights Watch, which is predicated in New York, left Hong Kong after it was sanctioned by China in retaliation for American laws supporting Hong Kong protesters in 2019.

The greatest native group to fall has been the Confederation of Trade Unions, an umbrella group made up of greater than 70 affiliate unions. It voted on Oct. 3 to disband within the face of rising strain from the federal government.

The confederation helped set up a dockworkers’ strike in 2013 and a avenue cleaners’ strike in 2018. Its political actions, together with protests and a common strike in the course of the 2019 unrest that roiled the town, possible made it a goal of the authorities.

“Union activity is very unglamorous in Hong Kong,” mentioned Ms. Wang, citing the town’s weak labor protections. “There is basically no reward, but they persisted anyway.”

The confederation’s common secretary, Lee Cheuk-yan, is serving time in prison for unlawful meeting over the 2019 protests. He and Carol Ng, the group’s former chairwoman, have additionally been charged with subversion in separate circumstances underneath the safety legislation. The group mentioned it was pressured to dissolve after its leaders had been threatened.

“A few of our leaders received quite intimidating and concrete warnings that they were facing threats to their person or even their families if the C.T.U. remained in operation,” mentioned C.F. Fan, a analysis officer for the group. He mentioned the threats got here each from Hong Kong and Chinese safety providers, however declined to give particulars.

One of the confederation’s greatest associates, the Hong Kong Professional Teachers Union, mentioned it might dissolve this yr. That group was the town’s largest academics union, with greater than 100,000 members, however it began disbanding after state media attacked it as a “malignant tumor” and the federal government mentioned it might now not acknowledge the group.

Activist teams have additionally been decimated. The Civil Human Rights Front, which had organized giant marches, closed in August after Beijing’s workplace in Hong Kong accused it of opposing China and the police opened an investigation into its funding. The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which organized an annual vigil to mourn these killed within the 1989 crackdown on the Tiananmen protest motion, disbanded after the authorities started wanting into its funding and accused most of its management of nationwide safety offenses, together with subversion. The authorities eliminated shows from the group’s museum and blocked entry in Hong Kong to the group’s web site.

“The past 32 years, with the Hong Kong Alliance keeping those memories alive, signaled that Hong Kong was different from mainland China,” Richard Tsoi, the one officer of the group not in custody, mentioned of the vigils. “But things have changed significantly.”

Many teams proceed to function, however some concern that the crackdown might unfold.

“We are not interested at all in politics,” mentioned Brian Wong, a member of Liber Research Community, an unbiased analysis institute that focuses on land use. “But from what we can see on the mainland, eventually all of civil society can be seen as a threat.”

The Hong Kong Journalists Association’s relative distance from politics could have additionally insulated it to this point. Mr. Chan, the union’s head, says its management has been hardened years of protecting crackdowns and avenue protests.

They have little illusions concerning the difficulties that they are going to face, however need to proceed on due to the wants of their colleagues, together with lots of of just lately unemployed Apple Daily journalists, he added. The aggressive pro-democracy newspaper was forced to close in June after its accounts had been frozen and several other high editors and executives arrested.

“I told them even if I’m arrested, please don’t disband,” he mentioned. “And if the pressure is too great, then put it to the members.”

The journalist’s group, which has fewer than 500 members, was based in 1968 to assist media employees set up and to promote press freedom. This yr it has grown more and more centered on serving to unemployed journalists, together with offering spending vouchers to former Apple Daily workers.

Chris Tang, Hong Kong’s safety secretary, began a broad assault towards the journalist’s affiliation in September. In an interview with the state-controlled Ta Kung Pao newspaper, he criticized the union for permitting scholar members and requested why its management was made up of journalists from “a few media organizations” — a reference to retailers which are usually crucial of the federal government. He referred to as on the group to disclose its membership, a chorus some pro-Beijing media and politicians have continued for weeks.

The affiliation responded that the one college students who’re allowed to be a part of are school college students learning journalism and that revealing the union’s membership checklist would possible violate Hong Kong’s privateness legal guidelines. Mr. Chan mentioned the union has members from most mainstream and even state-controlled publications. Another union, the Hong Kong Federation of Journalists, represents pro-Beijing media.

“We can’t underestimate how much danger we are in,” mentioned Mr. Chan, who’s an editor with Stand News, an internet publication. “But I think we still have some room.”

After Mr. Tang, who was Hong Kong’s police commissioner, was appointed to the safety secretary position in June, Mr. Chan despatched a congratulatory message. He knew Mr. Tang from years of protecting the police.

“The most important thing is that everyone is safe,” Mr. Tang replied over WhatsApp.

“That depends on you,” Mr. Chan wrote to him. “Will I be safe as well?”

He acquired no reply.

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