Citing Safety, Hong Kong Democracy Groups Close Facing China Security Law

Prominent activists in Hong Kong have wound up a leading pro-democracy organization after Chinese lawmakers approved a controversial new national security law that will effectively criminalize anti-government dissent in the semi-autonomous territory.

The Demosisto organization—set up in 2016 by pro-democracy campaigners Joshua Wong, Nathan Law, Agnes Chow and others—announced Tuesday it would cease operations following the approval of the national security law.

Wong, Law and Chow all said they would continue their fight for full democracy in Hong Kong regardless of Chinese political encroachment.

The national security law will criminalize secession, subversion and collusion with foreign forces. Opponents have warned that it will effectively stifle free speech and protest in Hong Kong, which until 1997 was a British colony.

Under the Sino-British Joint Declaration handover agreement, Hong Kong's market economy and way of life was supposed to be protected until 2047. But Beijing's new legislation will eat away at the "One country, two systems" agreement that protected the status quo and afforded Hong Kongers more political freedoms than their mainland compatriots.

Local Legislative Council lawmakers were already obliged to introduce a national security law of this type under Hong Kong's de facto constitution. But a previous attempt by the LegCo to do so in 2003 failed in the face of mass protests and ultimately contributed to the downfall of then-Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa.

This time, Chinese Communist Party lawmakers are circumventing the LegCo entirely, keen to avoid a repeat of 2003. The law has not yet been confirmed by the Chinese government and no draft has been made public, meaning Hong Kongers are still unsure of what it will contain.

The BBC reported that the bill was approved unanimously in a session of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress in Beijing. It is expected to be added to Hong Kong law some time Tuesday. Pro-democracy activists are planning to stage a protest march on Wednesday.

Demosisto's official Twitter account said the group had accepted the departures of the leading campaigners. "After much internal deliberation, we have decided to disband and cease all operation as a group given the circumstances," it explained.

Wong, Law and Chow all came to prominence during the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong. Both Wong and Law have since been jailed for their advocacy, while Chow was arrested during last year's anti-government unrest. All three have been barred from standing in local democratic elections.

Wong warned that the newly-passed legislation meant it was no longer "nonsense" for pro-democracy figures to be concerned about their safety. Wong said he could face 10 years of "political imprisonment" and be extradited to China. "No one could be sure [what would happen] tomorrow," he wrote of his "dire destiny."

"I believe at this moment, there are countless pairs of eyes in the world caring about Hong Kong, and gazing at my personal situation under the national security legislation," Wong wrote. "I will continue to defend my home—Hong Kong—until they silence, obliterate me from this piece of land."

Law said he would "continue the fight for democracy and freedom for Hong Kong with my personal capacity. Stay strong, my friends. Hong Kong people will not give up."

Chow's message was similar, describing her withdrawal from Demosisto as a difficult but "unavoidable, decision." She urged activists not to lose hope, writing: "Even in despair, we must always think of each other and live stronger. If you are alive, there is hope."

Both Law and Chow told Newsweek earlier this month they would not flee Hong Kong in the face of the national security law, even though other activists have already done so. But if they stay, they could face significant jail terms and harassment by security services.

The pro-independence Hong Kong National Front group also announced it would disband starting on Tuesday. In a Facebook post, HKNF said its overseas branches in Taiwan and the U.K. would take over its work. The pro-independence Studentlocalism group said it would do the same, and is planning to establish branches in Taiwan, the U.S. and Australia to continue its work.

It remains unclear if the national security law would apply retrospectively or only be used for future offenses. If retrospective, it could be used to sweep up large numbers of pro-democracy activists and prosecute some of the 9,000-plus arrested over the past year of unrest.

Hong Kong's delegate to the National People's Congress Standing Committee meeting Tam Yiu-chung did not clarify how the law would be used, the Hong Kong Free Press reported.

"Perhaps there are still a few hours before the law is officially announced," Tam told reporters. "After reading the full text of the law, everyone should be clear, because every crime has its definition."

China, Hong Kong, Demosisto, national security law
Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Agnes Chow of pro-democracy political group Demosisto hold a press conference in Hong Kong on May 30, 2020. ISAAC LAWRENCE/AFP via Getty Images)/Getty