The Hong Kong protest coalition that organized record-breaking democracy rallies has disbanded amid China’s sweeping clampdown on dissent in the city.
The 19-year-old Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) said on Sunday that it was forced to close, as no members were willing to take part in the secretariat work needed to keep the group running.
In a statement, the organization said, “Over the past year, the government, in the name of the Covid-19 pandemic, has turned down the protest applications by the front and different organizations. Many of our member groups are under oppression, with civil society being placed under unprecedented tough challenges.”
The group said that it faced a major hurdle in keeping up operations after the front convenor, Figo Chan Ho-wun, was imprisoned for 18 months in May over an unauthorized 2019 protest.
“We have no choice but to announce our dissolution, as we have no members participating in the secretariat in the next term,” it said.
The group has announced that it will donate HK$1.6 million (US$205,563) in assets it owned to “suitable bodies”.
In the statement, the front also expressed gratitude to Hongkongers for marching with it over the past 19 years, from its history-making 2003 rally against previous national security legislation, through the Occupy movement of 2014, and up to the 2019 anti-government protests, triggered by a now-withdrawn extradition bill.
“Our calls resonated across the entire city. We let the world see Hong Kong, let the light shine in the darkness, and let democracy and freedom take root in people’s hearts,” it said. “Although the front no longer exists today, we believe different organizations will continue to uphold their beliefs and support civil society, without forgetting why they started.”
The CHFR’s dissolution comes a week after the city’s biggest union — the Professional Teachers Union (PTU) — said it was shutting down after nearly 50 years of operation.
Head of Amnesty International’s China team Joshua Rosenzweig said that the front’s dissolution raises concerns about the situation in Hong Kong.
Speaking on the matter he said that Hong Kong’s “draconian national security law” has led to an “accelerating disappearance of independent civil society groups from the city.”
“Its demise is yet more evidence that Hongkongers’ rights to freedom of association, expression, and peaceful assembly can no longer be taken for granted under the authorities’ obsession with ‘national security”, he added.
Founded in 2002, the CHFR was composed of various human rights and pro-democracy groups. It’s July 1 march in 2003 saw an estimated 500,000 people join, forcing the government to shelve previous national security legislation then being considered.
It organized several record-breaking demonstrations during the 2019 anti-government protests, including ones attended by millions of people.