The Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) based in Washington, DC recently released a special report titled “Hong Kong’s Civil Society: From an Open City to a City of Fear.”
The report examines how a once vibrant civil society in Hong Kong changed dramatically in the two years after the imposition of the National Security Law in 2020. It draws conclusions from direct interviews conducted from March to June 2022 with 42 individuals including current and former lawyers, medical workers, educators, social workers, trade union organizers, legislators, district councilors, Christian clerics, student activists, local journalists, foreign correspondents, and international and local non-governmental organization staff.
The imposition of National Security Law has resulted in the arrest of more than 10,000 people by police including civil society leaders, community organizers, and professionals. Individuals arrested were charged with “terrorism,” “subversion,” “secession,” and “collusion” with foreign forces. Crackdown expanded from protesters to organizations. The enforcement of the law has resulted in the dismantling and disappearance of the civil society sector and independent journalism. More than 58 independent organizations have been forced to wind-up or disband between 2021 and June 2022 including Civil Human Rights Front, the Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union; independent media including Apple Daily, Citizen News, Stand News etc; and pro-democracy religious groups, for example, the Hong Kong Pastors Network and the Good Neighbour North District Church.
The report notes the devastating effect of the National security Law on the once dynamic Hong Kong civic life. It states “the authorities have suppressed not only the city’s democracy movement, but also its rich civic life. What has disappeared are not just rallies in the streets and an active, democratically elected political opposition, but also newspapers at newsstands, programs at Radio Television Hong Kong, books at book fairs, and more.”
The report quotes the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) expressing grave concern “at the excessive number of civil society organizations… which have relocated or ceased to operate, and the use of “deregistration” and “the filing of criminal charges” against organization leadership and called on authorities to “take concrete steps to repeal the current National Security Law and, in the meantime, refrain from applying the Law.” The concern was expressed in OHCHR’s fourth periodic report of Hong Kong’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in July 2022.