Hong Kong’s biggest labor group, Confederation of Trade Unions, announces it is disbanding on October 3, 2021. The big banner in front of the group says, “Whatever may be, we will stick together.” Their shirts read, “Drops of water can go through stone.”

The Chinese Communist Party is decimating Hong Kong civil society

As of October 25, fifty-three civil society organizations have disbanded this year

The year 2021 has witnessed the decimation of civil society in Hong Kong due to repression by the Chinese Communist Party. Such a phenomenon in today’s world is quite uncommon: a relatively well-developed liberal society forced back to the political stone age. That is indeed what is happening to Hong Kong before the eyes of the world.

As of October 25, Fifty-three civil society organizations have disbanded. These groups were old and new, big and small, famous and obscure.

They were of many diverse types: 11 labor unions, 7 neighborhood groups, 6 professional groups (lawyers, teachers, doctors, finance workers, actuaries), 4 political groups, 4 religious groups, 3 media organizations, 2 political parties, 2 protest groups, 2 humanitarian assistance groups, 2 Chinese solidarity groups, 2 human rights organizations, 1 group of elderly people, 1 parents group, 1 cultural group, and 1 tech group.

They include some of the oldest civil society organizations in Hong Kong such as the Student Union of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, founded in 1971, and Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union, founded in 1973; Hong Kong’s biggest daily newspaper, Apple Daily; its biggest labor group, Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, with 61 member unions representing 160,000 workers; the main pro-democracy protest coalition, Civil Human Rights Front; and the largest group helping arrested, prosecuted and injured protesters, 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which raised an astounding HK$236,383,746 in crowdfunded donations from ordinary people.

Thirty-six of the 53 groups were new, having emerged out of the two biggest movements in Hong Kong in recent years, the Umbrella Movement of 2014 and the 2019 protests. Only 16 of the 52 were founded prior to 2014.

The purpose of the Communist Party’s crackdown is to crush any kind of association or assembly outside of its control, much as it has done in China. The attacks on civil society organizations are part of a larger crackdown that encompasses virtually every sector of Hong Kong society, that indeed is aimed at the Hong Kong people themselves. Some of the more prominent elements of the crackdown include mass arrests of protesters and political leaders (as of October 18, 10,447 protesters have been arrested and 2,866 prosecuted; 171 protest leaders have been arrested and 108 of them prosecuted); attacks on the media and rule of law; a complete reforming of what was even before only a semi-democratic political system to exclude anyone of whom the Communist Party does not approve; enforcement of political obedience at schools and universities as well as the civil service through loyalty oaths, political education campaigns, and other forms of intimidation; and a ban on all protests since March 28, 2020 on the public health pretext of coronavirus prevention.

Previous to 2021, other civil society groups had also dissolved. For example, just before the inception of the so-called “national security law” on June 30, 2021, the political party Demosistō announced it was disbanding. Many other civil society organizations that have not formally disbanded have become moribund. In the oppressive political climate, it is difficult for many organizations to retain old members or recruit new ones.

Thirty-five members of nine of the disbanded groups have been arrested by the National Security Department (the Hong Kong police unit charged with enforcing the so-called “national security law”) and/or prosecuted under the so-called “national security law”, including five members of the General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists for publishing three allegorical books for children about sheep; seven members of Hong Kong Alliance — three for “inciting subversion” though they’ve done no more than say the same thing they have said for decades, and five for refusing to comply with police demands (one faces both charges); 11 executives of Apple Daily for “colluding with foreign forces”; four members of Student Politicism for running street stalls, aiding prisoners and opposing the government’s coronavirus tracking app, which actions are said to constitute “inciting subversion”; two members of the Chu Hoi-dick New Territories West team, one member of Hong Kong Civil Assembly Team, one member of Neo Democrats, and one leader of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions for participating in a pro-democracy primary; and three members of Power for Democracy for organizing that primary. In addition, four groups have themselves been charged under the NSL as entities, Hong Kong Alliance, and three Apple Daily entities, Apple Daily Limited, Apple Daily Printing Limited, and AD Internet Limited. (See here for a full list of arrests and prosecutions under the so-called “national security law” — scroll to the bottom of the page.)

On top of that, 16 members of four disbanded groups are facing non-NSL trials, including 11 from Hong Kong Alliance, three from Student Politicism, one from Civil Human Rights Front, and one from Hong Kong Civil Assembly Team.

Some other organizations have decided to leave Hong Kong, closing their offices in the city, including the Chinese-language news website Initium and Amnesty International. It specifically cited the NSL as the reason for its move. It is closing two offices, an Asia regional office under its International Secretariat based in London and the AI Hong Kong Section, which is properly a local organization and is therefore listed above. The New York Times announced weeks after the NSL came into effect that it was moving its digital news operations from Hong Kong to Seoul, South Korea, citing difficulties in procuring work visas for its journalists that were previously easy to come by.

See the full list of Hong Kong civil society organizations that have disbanded in 2021 below.

(For the most authoritative list in Chinese of civil society organizations closed in 2021 due to state repression, see this Stand News article.)