National security law: Hong Kong’s largest opposition party joins exodus from mass protest organiser Civil Human Rights Front

Danny Mok
·4-min read

Hong Kong’s largest opposition party has become the latest group to quit the Civil Human Rights Front after reports emerged the organiser of several record-breaking mass protests during the 2019 anti-government movement was being investigated under the national security law.

A source from the Democratic Party confirmed its departure on Monday, a day after the city’s largest teacher organisation announced it was leaving the coalition. The party did not explain the reason for its withdrawal

The Professional Teachers’ Union (PTU) said on Sunday that its decision to leave the front – which staged several of the city’s biggest anti-government marches – was made after considering the “recent political situation”.

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The educators said the union would no longer take part in the front’s activities or attend its conferences with immediate effect.

The move followed a series of similar departures from several local opposition parties or groups. The Neighbourhood and Workers Service Centre was the first to quit, one day after a Singaporean newspaper reported on March 5 that the front would be targeted by the Hong Kong government and might be outlawed.

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Neo Democrats left the fold on Friday, followed by the Hong Kong Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood on Saturday. Their departures were explained using similar wording to PTU’s. Others to step back recently were the Civic Party and the Justice and Peace Commission of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese.

The exodus emerged after Lianhe Zaobao, the largest Chinese-language daily newspaper in Singapore, quoted a source saying the Hong Kong government had launched an investigation into allegations the front was being supported by a Washington-based NGO that was under Beijing sanctions.

The insider reportedly said the National Endowment for Democracy, funded by the United States Congress, had been providing financial assistance to the front for staging certain events, an act which could constitute an offence under the national security law imposed on Hong Kong in late June last year banning acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

The events were said to relate to the now-withdrawn extradition bill, the spark for the anti-government protests. It was also reported that the front had never registered with the government and might have violated the city’s Societies Ordinance.

The alliance did not immediately reply to a request for comment on Monday.

Front convenor Figo Chan Ho-wun previously said in a statement the group had not received any funding from foreign governments or organisations.

The loose political coalition of more than 40 members included almost all the city’s pan-democratic political parties, civic groups and unions. Formed in 2002, it has held numerous officially approved protests calling for universal suffrage and the protection of civil liberties, including the annual July 1 marches marking Hong Kong’s handover from British to Chinese sovereignty.

The front held its first mass rally on July 1, 2003, when about 500,000 protesters turned out in opposition to proposed national security legislation under Article 23 of the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law. The government later shelved the bill.

Political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung said the alliance had played a significant role in the city’s democratic movement.

“I think it represents an era, an era when the core of social movement was shifted from political parties to civil society in 2003,” Choy said. “The alliance has taken up the leading role in mobilising people to take to the streets.”

Choy said he had never imagined so many major political parties would quit the alliance within a few days, a development which had proven the chilling effect of the law was “really huge”.

He believed that the prosecution of 47 anti-government activists had delivered a significant blow to the political parties, as many of their members on the front line had been remanded in custody, which raised fears the organisations would have to “make further sacrifices”.

“This will make the public hesitate over participating or organising demonstrations,” he said.

PTU vice-president Ip Kin-yuen said on Sunday night he had no further comment. A source familiar with the situation said the union’s decision was made that day after considering the allegations in the media.

Veteran activist Lee Cheuk-yan, chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, told media the front had not broken the national security law and his organisation would not give up its cause.

The alliance is best known for organising the annual June 4 candlelight vigil in Victoria Park to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

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