The Civil Human Rights Front, or CHRF, a prominent civil rights group that has commonly supported and organized some of Hong Kong’s most notable pro-democracy protests, has disbanded under increasing restrictions in Hong Kong’s wide-sweeping National Security Law, or NSL.
CHRF leadership made this decision after facing pressure from Hong Kong authorities and the threat of being sentenced to prison under the ever-restrictive NSLs became a reality.
The group disbanded Aug. 15, saying members weren’t willing to perform any duties within the group’s operations after their convenor, Figo Chan Ho-wun, was sentenced to 18 months because of his participation in a 2019 protest, according to The Guardian.
Figo Chan has been held in custody since May, alongside other high profile pro-democracy activists such as Jimmy Lai, Ryan Law, and Leung Kwok-hung.
In their Sunday statement, members of the CHRF thanked the people of Hong Kong, because Hong Kongers “allowed the world to see Hong Kong, allowed light to shine through darkness, and had sown the seed of democracy and freedom in people’s hearts.”
The 19-year-old civil rights group was the group behind the annual July 1 protests from 2003 to 2019; a rally commemorating “Handover Day,” where the responsibility and sovereignty of Hong Kong was transitioned from the United Kingdom to the People’s Republic of China. In 2020, Hong Kong officials banned the event, citing its violation of COVID regulations and the new NSL that had been put into effect just the night before.
The group’s disbandment comes days after Hong Kong chief of police, Raymond Siu, suggested that past rallies the CHRF took part in may have violated National Security, even though authorities, like city leader Carrie Lam, repeatedly assured the group that the law was not retroactive.
Siu defended the police’s pressure, saying they were “ready to take action at any time,” and that CHRF could have violated the national security law for “organising a series of large-scale, illegal protests” in recent years.
Multiple Hong Kong civil and community groups are disbanding because of the state’s crackdown on speech and assembly. The CHRF shutdown just three days after Hong Kong’s largest teachers’ union decided to cease operations. On July 22, five members of a speech therapist union were arrested for promoting democracy in their children’s books.
With the latest crackdown on assembly and speech, it is evident that community groups and civil society groups are at risk of censorship. On Aug. 10, Joshua Rosenzweig, the head of Amnesty International’s China team, said in a statement: “This is the latest in a troubling pattern in which the Hong Kong authorities readily heed strident but baseless calls targeting groups or individuals in Hong Kong. Having effectively neutralized the political opposition, the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities now appear to be ramping up attempts to wipe out civil society groups that have a strong mobilizing capacity – a disturbing development for other unions still operating in the city.”
The CHRF is the largest group to disband since the Beijing-imposed NSL was enacted.
Since the NSL’s passage in June 2020, hundreds of Hong Kong activists have been arrested, charged with violating Hong Kong’s definition of terrorism, collusion with foreign forces, incitement, or secession.
Hong Kong police have said they will continue to investigate the group for possible violations of the security law. In addition, CHRF says its assets of HK$1.6 million will be donated to other like-minded organizations.
The NSL has extended its reach from media outlets and influential figures to NGOs and community groups. Should Communist China continue to suppress any state-opposing voice, not much later will the freedoms of assembly and speech be lost for all.