The Hong Kong pro-democracy group that organized three decades of vigils commemorating the victims of the Beijing Tiananmen Square massacre voted to disband in the face of China’s radical crackdown on dissent.
The Hong Kong Alliance was one of the most prominent symbols of the city’s longstanding political plurality, and its dissolution on Saturday is the latest illustration of how quickly China is reshaping the business center in its own authoritarian image.
After announcing the decision to disband, a representative of the alliance read a letter from its president Lee Cheuk-yan, who is in jail.
“A regime cannot take away the memory and conscience of the people,” the letter said. “The beliefs of the Hong Kong Alliance will be transmitted in the hearts of the people of Hong Kong.”
Many of the alliance leaders are in custody for participating in the city’s democratic movement.
Earlier this month, police charged three top figures, including Lee, with subversion, a national security crime.
That same week, officers raided a closed museum the group ran to commemorate Beijing’s 1989 deadly crackdown on Tiananmen Square, and took exhibits, memorabilia and photos from the historic event.
The police also ordered the group to remove its website and social media platforms, and the authorities promised to revoke its registration as a company.
The alliance leadership was divided over whether to disband.
“I still hope to show the Hong Kong Alliance’s beliefs to the world and continue this movement that has already lasted 32 years,” wrote Chow Hang Tung, a lawyer and one of the three leaders charged with subversion, from early prison. This week.
But other key figures, including Lee and Albert Ho, had signaled that they supported the dissolution of the group.
The Liaison Office, which represents Beijing’s central government in Hong Kong, called the group’s dissolution “the inevitable fate of anti-China groups in Hong Kong,” according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.
He also said that the group’s “destabilizing activities” “will not be canceled” and that those who “ruined Hong Kong cannot escape justice,” Xinhua said.
Huge and often violent democratic protests engulfed Hong Kong in 2019. China responded by imposing a new national security law that has criminalized much dissent and by launching a campaign to purge the city of individuals and groups deemed disloyal.
More than 90 people have been charged under the law, while dozens of civil society groups, including trade unions and political parties, have dissolved.
The alliance was told it was being investigated by the national security unit earlier this year and ordered to hand over a series of documents and details about its membership.
Unlike many opposition groups that quickly withdrew or obeyed police requests, he took a more challenging approach.
Many of its leading figures are lawyers and argued that the police request was illegal.
After the alliance confirmed that it would not cooperate with the investigation, the police filed subversion charges against its leaders.
Every June 4, the group held candlelight vigils in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park to commemorate the Tiananmen massacre. They were routinely cared for by tens of thousands of residents, and crowds have grown in recent years as anger intensified over how Beijing was running the city.
That anger exploded in seven months of democracy protests in 2019.
Since then, Beijing has made it clear that it will no longer tolerate the remembrance of Tiananmen in Hong Kong or Macau, the only two places within China where public remembrance could take place.
China’s top official in Hong Kong recently described those calling for “an end to the one-party dictatorship” as “real enemies.” Then the police action against the alliance intensified.
The last two Tiananmen vigils were banned, with authorities citing the coronavirus pandemic and security fears.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism