Hong Kong, China – For nearly 20 years, the Civil Rights Front has mobilized the largest protest marches allowed by the police, but now the authorities are accused of illegal actions.
The University of Hong Kong Student Union, the founding father of modern China, is being ousted by the administration.
As the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre approaches, all but one of the leaders of the alliance that organizes the annual candlelight vigil are behind bars.
Hong Kong has long had a vibrant civil society, which came into being 10 years before the area returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.
But barely a year later, Beijing enforced its National Security Code, which criminalizes secession, sabotage, cooperation with foreign powers, and civil society groups that the Chinese Communist Party considers a source of subversive activity. , are under pressure.
A threat to such perceptions is China, a Hong Kong bloc that has pledged to overthrow the Communist-led government for decades.
Even almost all of the bloc’s leaders are in jail awaiting trial, with Vice President Chow Hang-tun saying he has no plans to back down.
“When we give an inch, the authorities will get even closer to the red line,” he said.
Keeping the line
Although much of Hong Kong civil society has historically been apolitical, the formation of an alliance to support the student movement in Beijing in 1989 was a watershed.
The group began mass mobilization in the British colony at a time when more political consciousness was also campaigning for direct elections.
In the first years after the surrender, political parties flourished, hoping that Beijing would deliver on its promise to eventually establish universal suffrage for the highest regional office.
In 2003, the Civic Human Rights Front, the umbrella organization for civic groups, came out against the People’s Opposition under Article 23 of the National Security Code, which was to be passed by the Hong Kong Legislature.
In 2019, the front played a key role in bringing millions of protesters to the streets, pushing back on widely feared legislation that would allow suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial.
But in recent weeks, the frontline investigation has sparked mass expulsions of its member groups, with at least two of its main summonses under arrest on charges of plotting a 2019 primary for Democratic lawmakers. ,
Still Delayed Legislative Elections քաղաքական Beijing-backed political measures that further weaken popular representation People in the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong hope that civil society can keep up.
“Although we are denied the right to run, we still have a role to play in civil society if there is room for the Chinese Communist Party,” said Alan Leong, chairman of the Civil Party.
In April, Leong rejected open complaints from the party’s four disqualified lawmakers, all on criminal charges, for being dissolved for “security.”
In response, the party, whose 500 members include many lawyers, reaffirmed its intention to continue the fight for social justice on its official Facebook page.
The party’s legal mindset also included discussions with NGOs on how to navigate the political minefield created by national security law.
“Ear to the ground”
Outside of politics, the city’s civil society has proven to be both resourceful and irreplaceable, especially in times of crisis.
“Social mobilization has its place and value,” said Edmund Cheng, a political scientist at Hong Kong City University who, along with several other academics, has published studies examining how civil society reacted to the outbreak early last year. ,
“Civic groups often listen to the ground, so they are good at providing social services and public goods.”
But the political reality remains that non-liberal Asia-Pacific regimes have consistently sought to contain civil society as a tool of control, according to Tai Wei Lim, a research fellow at the National Institute of East Asia at the National University of Singapore.
“In order to survive, civic groups must align their goals with the central government and be prepared to work together on certain issues,” Lim told Al Jazeera.
According to Lim, the scenarios are likely to see Hong Kong “transfer their struggle through a network of non-institutional individuals or operate from abroad.”
Mutual aid groups have already been set up to help the “political exiles” of immigrant communities in England.
“Our advantage is that our network is stronger, there are more connections, more international connections, more discoveries,” said Chou of the bloc. “So I hope our civil society will be more resilient.”
He said that Chou thinks that Hong Kong civil society will be stronger than the sum of its parts. Every public position is getting stronger.
Although the government banned Tiananmen Vigilance for the second year in a row, organizers are urging people to light candles in memory of the thousands of people killed in Beijing in 1989, in memory of democracy itself.
“It was the strongest sign of resistance for 30 years,” Chao said. “If it were just symbolic, the regime would spare no effort to suppress it.”