Hong Kong’s pro-democracy group, which has organized three decades of vigils commemorating victims of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing, voted to disband on Saturday amid China’s radical crackdown on dissent.
The Hong Kong Alliance was one of the most important symbols of the city’s ancient political plurality, and its dissolution is the latest illustration of how quickly China is reshaping the center of business into its own authoritarian image.
After announcing the decision to disband, a representative of the alliance read a letter from its president Lee Cheuk-yan, currently in prison.
“A regime cannot take away the memory and conscience of the people,” the letter read. “The convictions of the Hong Kong Alliance will be transmitted to the hearts of Hong Kong people.”
Many alliance leaders are in detention for participating in the city’s democratic movement.
Earlier this month, police charged three senior officials, including Lee, with subversion – a national security crime.
That same week, agents raided a closed museum the group was running to commemorate the deadly crackdown on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, taking away exhibits, memorabilia and photographs of the historic event.
Police also ordered the group to shut down its website and social media platforms, and authorities have promised to revoke its registration as a business.
The leadership of the alliance was divided over whether to disband.
“I still hope to show the world the convictions of the Hong Kong Alliance and continue this movement which has already been going on for 32 years,” wrote Chow Hang Tung, lawyer and one of the three leaders accused of subversion, from prison. earlier this week.
But other personalities, including Lee and Albert Ho, had indicated that they supported the disbandment of the group.
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The liaison office, which represents Beijing’s central government in Hong Kong, called the group’s disbandment “the inevitable fate of anti-Chinese groups in Hong Kong,” according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.
He also said the group’s “destabilizing activities” would “not be written off” and those who “messed up Hong Kong cannot escape justice,” Xinhua said.
Huge and often violent anti-democracy protests engulfed Hong Kong in 2019. China responded by imposing a new national security law that criminalized many dissent and launching a campaign to purge the city of individuals and groups. considered unfair.
More than 90 people have been charged under the law, while dozens of civil society groups, including unions and political parties, have been dissolved.
The alliance was told it was under investigation by the national security unit earlier this year and ordered to hand over a plethora of documents and details about its members.
Unlike many opposition groups who quickly bowed or obeyed police demands, he took a more provocative approach.
Many of his personalities are lawyers and they argued that the police request was illegal.
After the alliance confirmed it was not going to cooperate with the investigation, police brought charges of subversion against its leaders.
30 years of vigil
Officially titled Hong Kong Alliance for the Support of the Democratic Patriotic Movements of China, the group was founded in May 1989 to support students who organize rallies for democracy and the fight against corruption in Beijing.
A month later, Chinese leaders sent tanks and soldiers to crush the movement in Tiananmen Square, a move it has since heavily censored and removed from public records on the mainland.
Over the following decades, the alliance kept memories of Tiananmen alive and called on China’s Communist leaders to pass reforms with slogans such as “End the One-Party Rule” and “Build a Democratic China”.
Every June 4, the group held candlelight vigils in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park that were regularly attended by tens of thousands of locals, with crowds growing in recent years as anger at the way Beijing ruled the city intensified. .
This anger exploded in seven months of democracy protests in 2019.
Beijing has since made it clear that it will no longer tolerate the Tiananmen commemoration in Hong Kong or Macau, the only two places in China where the public commemoration could take place.
The senior Chinese official in Hong Kong recently called those calling for “an end to the one-party dictatorship” “real enemies”. Police action against the alliance then intensified.
The last two vigils in Tiananmen have been banned, with authorities citing the coronavirus pandemic and fears for safety.