Veteran Hong Kong labor rights activist arrested on suspicion of foreign collusion

Elizabeth Tang told the press that she did not anticipate her arrest on 11 March 2023. Image from (CC: AT-NC)

Elizabeth Tang, a veteran Hong Kong labor activist and current general secretary of the International Domestic Worker Union, was arrested in Hong Kong outside Stanley Prison on March 9, 2023, after she visited her husband, Lee Cheuk Yan, the head of the now-dissolved Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions and former chairman of the civil society group Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China (HK Alliance). 

The city's security police authorities accused her of “collusion with foreign forces.” Tang was released two days later, on March 11, on a bail amount of HKD 200,000 (approximately USD 25,500), while her passport, mobile phone, bank cards, and credit cards were all seized. 

After Tang was bailed out, the police arrested her lawyer and sister:

The 65-year-old activist moved to the UK last September and returned to Hong Kong recently to visit her 66-year-old husband, who is in jail for organizing and participating in several unauthorized assemblies between 2019 and 2020. His trial for charges of “inciting to subvert state power” under the National Security Law (NSL) is still pending, along with that of two other activists, Albert Ho and Chow Hang Tung, for their insistence on commemorating the bloody crackdown of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Protests. The three activists were key organizers of HK Alliance, which hosted the annual June 4 vigil in Hong Kong Victoria Park until the organization was forced to dissolve in September 2021.

Tang told the press that she did not anticipate her arrest as her work is focused on labor rights, and she could not understand why it could endanger national security. 

Reporters from China state-funded media outlet Wen Wei Po were waiting outside Stanley Prison and videotaped the city security police arresting Tang on March 9. The paper also accused Tang’s previous associations, Asia Monitor Resource Center (AMRC) and the now dissolved Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), of receiving foreign funding. AMRC is a labor rights research organization, which was established in 1968 and based in Hong Kong. It was relocated from Hong Kong to Seoul in September 2021 amid state crackdowns on civil society, while HKCTU, established in 1990 by the activist couple Tang and Lee, was dissolved in October 2021.

Tang was HKUTC’s coordinator between 1995 to 2011 and later joined the International Domestic Workers Federation, which has a network of 81 affiliated organizations in 63 countries. She is currently the general secretary of the global worker organization. 

Human rights organizations, Amnesty International and UK-based Hong Kong Watch both urged for Tang’s release. Amnesty criticized the action as “an ongoing purge of opposition voices” and Hong Kong Watch highlighted the irony of Tang's arrest in a statement

The arrest of Elizabeth Tang coming a day after we celebrated International Women’s Day is a stark reminder that Beijing’s quislings in Hong Kong have little respect for those who advocate labour, civic, and political rights.

It is clear that the National Security Police with an overinflated budget and egged on by the pro-Beijing media in Hong Kong will continue its human rights crackdown and its cycle of arrests and fear.

The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights noted in the most recent concluding observations that the NSL has adversely impacted Hong Kong’s human rights commitment, civil society organizations, and judicial independence. The crackdown on trade unions and arrest of labor rights activists were deliberated in a committee's review session, as highlighted by the UK-based labor activist group Hong Kong Labour Rights Monitor on Twitter:

The Hong Kong government rebutted the report as “inaccurate, biased and misleading.”

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