Hong Kong prisoner support group Wall-fare announced it is disbanding on Tuesday, to mitigate the risk of being pursued under a draconian national security law imposed on the city by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
“After nine months of hard work, Wall-fare will now officially end its operations,” the group said in a cached version of its farewell message on its Facebook page that was later deleted.
“Though we may have been crushed in the end, what came before that made it worthwhile.”
Wall-fare’s dissolution comes after secretary for security and former police chief Chris Tang accused “certain groups” of endangering national security” in prisons by writing to inmates and “soliciting followers” with gifts of chocolates, hairpins, and other items, making them “hate the government.”
It is the latest in a line of civil society groups to disband following public denunciation by officials or by CCP-backed media.
The group started up on Dec. 14, 2020, working out of an office in Lai Chi Kok, collecting goods and money to support prisoners amid a city-wide crackdown on opposition lawmakers, peaceful activism, and public dissent.
“Wall-fare will be wrapping up its caseload according to the principles of social work, but it will no longer be providing services,” the statement said.
It said the group would apply to deregister from the Companies Registry and go through the legal processes needed to dissolve.
Activist and former lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun, who once represented social workers in the Legislative Council (LegCo), said the decision came after a meeting of employees on Sunday.
He said it was in response to a specific incident that day, but declined to disclose further details.
Constant political pressure
But he said it was “well-known” that he and the group had been under constant political pressure since the outset.
“Any civil society group in Hong Kong is going to be under all kinds of pressure right now,” Shiu said. “Maybe even standing here today is a crime.”
“How could we go on, watching one group after another run into trouble? All I can tell you is that I can’t do this any more, so we are announcing that it’s over,” he said.
Shiu said the group had assisted more than 100 inmates and their families in the past nine months, providing material and emotional support to anyone jailed or on remand for taking part in protests or activism.
“People in custody are the most marginalized people in society and are often ignored,” he said.
“All I wanted to do was to … offer a cool glass of water to inmates and their families during the summer heat,” Shiu said. “Unfortunately, that cup of water may have gotten too hot now.”
Help to inmates’ families
Independent social worker Lau Ka Tung said he was one of Wall-fare’s service users after being arrested for “obstructing officials in the course of their duties” during the 2019 protest movement.
He said the organization’s disbanding was a shame, as it had reduced the burden on families by providing free supplies to inmates.
“The letters I received through their pen-pal matching program helped me make it through,” Lau said. “Wall-fare also visited my family and gave gifts to my parents on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, which means I didn’t worry so much in prison.”
“We don’t hear much public discussion of the rights and interests of inmates,” Lau said. He said Wall-fare had campaigned for fans to be installed during the hot weather, organizing public petitions.
“I don’t know who will be doing that sort of rights-based advocacy work now Wall-fare is gone,” he said.
Shiu said Wall-fare had always operated within the rules laid down by the Correctional Services Department.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.