HONG KONG (AP) — A pro-democracy group that organized some of the biggest protests during months of political upheaval in Hong Kong in 2019 is dissolving, the group said Sunday.
The Hong Kong Civil Human Rights Front, made up of a slew of member organizations, said it could no longer operate. The decision comes as the group faces a police investigation for possible violation of a national security law, according to local media.
The group, which also organized an annual protest march marking the semiautonomous territory’s handover to China in 1997, is the largest to disband amid a sweeping crackdown on dissent in the city. Earlier this week, the city’s largest teachers’ union disbanded in light of what it said were drastic changes in the political environment.
Rights group Amnesty International expressed its concern over “the pattern of self-censorship seen this week.” The London-based organization said in a statement this “signals a concerning domino effect, as Hong Kong’s draconian national security law has triggered an accelerating disappearance of independent civil society groups from the city.”
The crackdown follows Beijing’s imposition of the national security law on Hong Kong last year. The legislation outlaws secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign collusion and has been used to arrest more than 100 pro-democracy figures since it was first implemented a year ago, as well as the closure of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily.
The crackdown has virtually silenced opposition voices in the city — and drawn sanctions from the U.S. against Hong Kong and Chinese government officials.
Former leaders of the Civil Human Rights Front, Figo Chan and Jimmy Sham, are currently in jail on charges related to their activism.
While authorities have said the law would not be applied retroactively, a recent interview with a Hong Kong police commissioner suggested the group was being investigated for holding rallies in the past year.
A statement by Hong Kong police on Sunday said they would continue to spare no effort to investigate whether any organization or individuals violated the national security law and other local laws. It said they would pursue individuals regardless of a group’s disbandment.
Police asked the group to hand over information on its members and activities as well as funding back in April.
Since the national security law was enacted, many unions, associations and political organizations have disbanded amid concerns that the law could be used to target them.
“Although the Civil Human Rights Front no longer exists today, but we believe that different groups will continue to stick to their ideals, who will not forget their original intentions, and continue to prop up civil society!” the group said in a statement.
Associated Press videojournalist Katie Tam in Hong Kong and researcher Henry Hou in Beijing contributed to this report.