Hong Kong activists fight to keep the flame of democracy alive | Political news
Hong Kong, China – For almost 20 years, the Civil Human Rights Front has mobilized some of the largest protest marches authorized by the police in Hong Kong, but it is now accused by the authorities of operating illegally.
The University of Hong Kong student union, the alma mater of the founding father of modern China, is being kicked out by the administration.
As the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre approaches, all but one of the leaders of the alliance that holds the annual candlelight vigil are behind bars.
Hong Kong has long been home to a vibrant and noisy civil society, which established itself in the 10 years leading up to the territory’s return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.
But barely a year after Beijing’s imposition of the National Security Law – which criminalizes activities seen as secession, subversion, and collusion with foreign forces – civil society groups, which the Chinese Communist Party regards as a threat to his regime and a hotbed of subversive activity, are under pressure.
The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Democratic Patriotic Movements in China, which for decades has pledged to overthrow the Communist-led government, is one example of such perceived threats.
Even with nearly all of the alliance leaders in jail and awaiting trial, Vice President Chow Hang-tung said she had no plans to back down.
“Once we give up an inch, the authorities will draw the red line even closer,” she said.
Hold the line
Although most of Hong Kong’s civil society has been historically apolitical, the founding of the alliance to aid the 1989 student movement in Beijing was a turning point.
The group launched a mass popular mobilization in the then British colony at a time when the more politically conscious had also started campaigning for direct elections.
A flowering of political parties followed in the first years after the handover, in the hope that Beijing would keep its promise to eventually introduce universal suffrage for the highest office of the territory.
In 2003, an umbrella organization of civic groups – the Civil Human Rights Front – arose out of popular opposition to Article 23, a national security law to be enacted by the Hong Kong legislature.
In 2019, the front helped bring millions of protesters to the streets and push back against widely feared legislation that would have allowed suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial.
But, in recent weeks, police investigations at the front have triggered mass departures from its member groups and at least two of its top officials are in custody on charges related to holding a primary to choose candidates. Democrats in the legislative elections and the organization of a march in 2019.
Yet with the postponement of parliamentary elections and the political measures backed by Beijing further diluting popular representation, members of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong are hoping that civil society can hold out.
“Even if we are denied the right to introduce ourselves, we still have a role to play in civil society, if there is a space allowed by the Chinese Communist Party,” said Alan Leong, chairman of the Civic Party.
In April, Leong rejected open appeals by the party’s four disqualified lawmakers – all held on criminal charges – to disband for “safety.”
In response, the party, whose more than 500 members include many lawyers, reaffirmed on its official Facebook page its goal of continuing to fight for social justice.
The party’s legal minds also held a discussion with NGOs on how to navigate the political minefield created by the National Security Law.
“The ear to the ground”
Outside of politics, the city’s civil society has always shown itself to be both agile – and indispensable – especially in times of crisis.
“Social mobilization has its place and its value,” said Edmund Cheng, a political scientist at the City University of Hong Kong who, among several other academics, has published studies examining how civil society came into action at the start of the pandemic. at the beginning of last year. .
“Civic groups often listen to the ground and are therefore adept at delivering social services and public goods. “
But the political reality remains that non-liberal regimes in the Asia-Pacific region invariably seek to contain civil society as a tool of control, as Tai Wei Lim, associate researcher at the East Asia Institute discovered. from the National University of Singapore.
“To survive, civic groups must align their goals with those of the central government and be prepared to be co-opted on certain issues,” Lim told Al Jazeera.
The most likely scenarios, Lim said, will see the Hong Kong people “take their struggle in non-institutional forms through a network of individuals or operate from abroad.”
Support groups have already sprung up to help political exiles and immigrant communities in England and Taiwan.
“Our advantage is that our network is stronger and that there are more international ties, connections and exposure,” said Chow of the alliance. “So, I hope our civil society will be more resilient.”
That said, Chow believes Hong Kong’s civil society will prove to be greater than the sum of its parts: every public position is amplified.
Even though the government has banned the Tiananmen Vigil for the second year in a row, organizers are urging people to light a candle – in memory of the thousands who were allegedly killed in Beijing in 1989, and for democracy itself.
“For 30 years this has been the most powerful sign of resistance,” Chow said. “If it was only symbolic, the regime would not have done so much to suppress it.”