HONG KONG (AP) — One of Hong Kong’s most established pro-democracy civic organizations said it is letting go its paid staff and halving the size of its steering committee after Beijing stepped up its crackdown on opposition activity in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China is best known for organizing an annual rally and candlelight vigil remembering those killed in the bloody 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
The group said in a statement Saturday that seven of its 14 remaining steering committee members had decided to step down in the face of “growing political and legal risks.” Of the seven members remaining, three are currently in jail for protest-related activities — chairman Lee Cheuk-yan as well as vice chairmen Albert Ho Chun-yan and Chow Hang-tung.
Letting go of staff was to “ensure 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 its operations, it vowed that “regardless of whatever difficulties or challenges we face, the alliance will continue to grit our teeth and move onwards one step at a time.”
Following months of anti-government protests in 2019, Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong last year. The criteria for elected officials has been narrowed 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 leading opposition voices have been jailed, intimidated into silence or have moved abroad to seek asylum.
The city’s last remaining pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, was forced to close after authorities arrested staff and froze assets. While the city is still a major business and financial hub, many Hong Kongers are leaving and some multinational companies have begun relocating their operations and staff due to legal concerns.
The annual June 4 commemoration of the 1989 crackdown had been attended by tens of thousands, along with a July 1 pro-democracy march and rally marking Hong Kong’s handover from British to Chinese rule.
Both have been banned for the past two years because of COVID-19 restrictions, and there is no indication whether authorities will allow them to be held in future.
While China says the new restrictions are targeted measures aiming to restore order and ensure Hong Kong’s future prosperity, critics at home and abroad say they are a betrayal of Beijing’s commitment to maintain Hong Kong’s civil liberties for 50 years after the handover.
This story corrects the charges faced by Lee Cheuk-yan, Albert Ho and Chow Hang-tung. They have been jailed for protest-related activities, not national security charges.