Hong Kong activists fight to keep the flame of democracy alive Politics news


Hong Kong, China – For almost 20 years, the Civil Human Rights Front has mobilized some of the largest protest marches authorized by Hong Kong police, but now the authorities accuse them of operating illegally.

The University of Hong Kong student union, alma mater of the founding father of modern China, is being expelled 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 been home to a vibrant and vibrant civil society, which became its own in the ten years leading up to the return of the territory to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.

But just a year after Beijing’s imposition of the National Security Law, which criminalizes activities considered secession, subversion and collusion with foreign forces, civil society groups, the Chinese Communist Party considers a threat to its government and a center of subversive activities. , are under pressure.

Hong Kong’s alliance to support patriotic democratic movements in China, which for decades has pledged to overthrow the communist-led government, has been one of the children of these perceived threats.

Even with almost all of the alliance leaders in jail and pending trial, Vice President Chow Hang-tung says she had no plans to back down.

“Once we give in an inch, the authorities will bring the red line even closer,” he said.

Keep the line

While most of Hong Kong’s civil society has historically been apolitical, the founding of the alliance to help the 1989 student movement in Beijing marked the basin.

This week, a court advocate holds a cell phone showing 47 pro-democracy activists accused of “subversion” during a primary election to choose their candidates for the 2020 Legislative Council elections but they are delayed [Vincent Yu/AP Photo]

The group began mass grassroots mobilization in the then British colony at a time when the more politically conscious had also begun to agitate direct elections.

The first years after the transfer were followed by a flourishing of political parties, with the hope that Beijing would fulfill its promise to finally introduce universal suffrage for the highest office in the territory.

In 2003, an umbrella organization of civic groups, the Civil Human Rights Front, emerged from popular opposition to Article 23, national security legislation that was to be enacted by the Hong Kong legislature.

In 2019, the front was instrumental in bringing millions of protesters to the streets and defeating the dreaded legislation that would have allowed suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial.

But in recent weeks, police investigations on the front have led to the mass exit of its member groups and at least two of its main conveners are being held on charges related to organizing primaries to choose democratic legislative candidates and the organization of a march in 2019.

Still, with postponed legislative elections and Beijing-backed political measures further diluting popular representation, people in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement hope that civil society can keep the line.

“Although we are denied the right to run, we still have a role to play in civil society, if there is any space allowed by the Chinese Communist Party,” said Alan Leong, chairman of the Civic Party.

In April, Leong rejected the open petitions of the party’s four disqualified lawmakers (all charged with criminal charges) for dissolving for “safety.”

Pro-democracy lawmakers withdrew from the Legislative Council last year after some of its elected members were disqualified and accused of being a danger to national security. [File: Anthony Wallace/AFP]

In response, the party, which has more than 500 members with numerous lawyers, reaffirmed on its official Facebook page its goal of continuing to fight for social justice.

The party’s legal minds have also convened a debate with NGOs on how to navigate the political minefield created by the national security law.

‘Ear to the ground’

Outside of politics, the city’s civil society has still proved agile and indispensable, especially in times of crisis.

“Social mobilization has its place and value,” said Edmund Cheng, a political scientist at Hong Kong City University who, among other academics, has published studies on how civil society began to act at the beginning of the pandemic early last year. .

“Civic groups often have their ear on the ground and are therefore adept at providing social services and public goods.”

But it remains the political reality that non-liberal regimes in Asia and the Pacific invariably seek to contain civil society as a tool of control, as Tai Wei Lim, an assistant researcher at the East Asian Institute of the National University of Singapore.

“To survive, civic groups must align their goals with those of the central government and be willing to be co-opted on certain issues,” Lim told Al Jazeera.

The most likely scenarios, Lim said, will see Hong Kongers “take their struggle in non-institutional ways through a network of individuals or operate from abroad.”

Mutual aid groups have already emerged to help the communities of political exiles and immigrants in England and Taiwan.

“Our advantage is that our network is stronger and there are more international links, connections and exposure,” Chow said of the alliance. “So I hope our civil society is more resilient.”

With this year’s eve banned again, organizers are urging people to light a candle wherever it is. [File: Vincent Yu/AP Photo]

That said, Chow believes Hong Kong’s civil society will prove stronger than the sum of its parts: every public stance is amplified.

Although the government has banned the eve of Tiananmen for the second year in a row, organizers are urging people to light a candle, in memory of the thousands of people believed to have died in Beijing in 1989 and for democracy itself.

“For 30 years, this has been the most powerful sign of resistance,” Chow said. “If it were merely symbolic, the regime would not have worked so hard to suppress it.”

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