For the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement, 2021 has been a year in which the city authorities and the central government of Beijing wiped out almost everything it had stood for.
The activists have either fled abroad or been locked up under a draconian new National Security Law imposed on the city. The voices of the opposition have been expelled from the legislature. Monuments commemorating China‘s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing in 1989 have been torn down. And as the year drew to a close on Wednesday, a pro-democracy news outlet shut down after a police raid, silencing one of the last openly critical voices in the city.
The crackdown, which took root 18 months ago with the enactment of the National Security Law, unfolded this year as the world’s two main powers, the United States and China, fought for democracy and good governance.
The Biden administration has been highly critical of China’s movements in Hong Kong as it tries to support democracy globally and deepen ties with other democracies in the face of China’s rise. The Communist Party-ruled country has pointed to flaws in American democracy and argued that its own system has provided stability and a better response to COVID-19 compared to what it describes as chaos in the United States.
Hong Kong, a former British colony that was seen as a bastion of freedom after its return to China in 1997, has undergone an overhaul of its political system and a crackdown on political dissent as authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong have sought suppress anti-government sentiment which led to months of political conflict in 2019.
On Wednesday, Hong Kong police raided the office of pro-democracy online news outlet Stand News and arrested six people, two current and former editors and four former board members, including popular singer Denise Ho, for alleged sedition under a colonial-era criminal ordinance.
The outlet announced Wednesday afternoon that it would halt operations after the raid.
Stand News is the second Hong Kong news outlet to cease operations after being targeted by authorities, following the defunct Apple Daily newspaper that closed earlier this year after authorities raided its offices a second time and frozen millions. in assets.
A series of activist arrests and amendments to electoral laws this year have nearly wiped out the pro-democracy movement in the city.
More than 100 pro-democracy figures and others have been arrested under the National Security Act, which penalizes actions deemed separatist or that subverts the governments of Hong Kong or China.
That includes 47 people charged with subversion under the new law in February for their roles in an unofficial primary election held in 2020 to determine the best candidates to run in planned legislative elections.
Authorities accused the activists of subversion, saying they planned to win a majority and use it to paralyze the government and eventually force Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to resign.
The government postponed the 2020 elections, citing the public health risks of COVID-19. Then the central government in Beijing announced new electoral laws earlier this year that reduced the proportion of directly elected seats to less than a quarter and required all candidates to be loyal to Beijing.
The results were predictable: earlier this month, pro-Beijing lawmakers won a landslide victory in the postponed elections. The city’s largest opposition party, the Democratic Party, did not put forward candidates for the first time since Hong Kong’s handover to China in 1997.
This year, several unions and pro-democracy organizations have also been dissolved. The largest teachers union in the city was dissolved in August due to the political climate, followed later by the largest independent union in the city, reducing the space for civil society groups.
The Civil Human Rights Front, a pro-democracy group that organized some of the biggest protests in 2019, also disbanded following a police investigation under the National Security law.
Other pro-democracy activists have also been arrested for participating in unauthorized protests and the annual Tiananmen candlelight vigil, held to commemorate China’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. on June 4, 1989, which has been banned for two consecutive years. Today, most of the city’s pro-democracy activists are behind bars or have fled abroad.
As the year drew to a close, several works of art commemorating the Tiananmen massacre were removed.
Two days before Christmas, the University of Hong Kong, citing legal risks, ordered the removal of the 8-meter (26-foot) high Pillar of Shame monument, which shows a pile of torn and twisted bodies of Tiananmen victims. Several other universities followed suit, removing statues in favor of democracy and in commemoration of Tiananmen.
The Communist Party of China has long sought to erase Tiananmen from public consciousness on the mainland, banning any commemorative events. Now he seems determined to do the same in Hong Kong in the name of restoring stability to the city.
(with information from AP)
Denise Ho, the pro-democracy, gay and pop megastar who stood up to the Chinese regime and was arrested in Hong Kong
Hong Kong Police Arrested Six People Associated With Pro-Democratic Stand News
Persecution of the Chinese regime to the independent press in Hong Kong: Stand News closed after police raid and arrests
Two other Hong Kong universities removed Tiananmen massacre memorials under pressure from China