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Largest Hong Kong Teachers' Union Disbands Amid Crackdown

People walk past the entrance of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union in Hong Kong, Aug. 10, 2021.
People walk past the entrance of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union in Hong Kong, Aug. 10, 2021.

Hong Kong's largest teachers' union said it disbanded Tuesday because of the changing political climate, as the government continues its crackdown on dissent in the city.

The Hong Kong government cut ties with the pro-democracy union last week and accused it of spreading anti-Beijing and anti-government sentiment. The split came hours after Chinese state media called the union a “malignant tumor” that should be eradicated.

The Professional Teachers’ Union is the city’s largest single-industry trade union, with 95,000 members.

“Regrettably, the changes in the social and political environment in recent years have forced us to think about the way forward, and some recent rapid developments have also put us under tremendous pressure,” the union said in a statement Tuesday.

It said it would stop accepting new members and refund renewals submitted by current members. It will also lay off 200 staff members and dispose of its assets, and it will soon halt its medical center services and welfare centers that sold discounted goods to members.

The closure of the teachers’ union is the latest fallout from efforts by Hong Kong authorities to stamp out dissent in the city. Over the past two years, numerous political groups and the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily have ceased operations over concerns that they would be targeted under a sweeping national security law imposed by Beijing last year following months of anti-government protests that at times descended into violence. More than 100 pro-democracy figures have been arrested under the law.

Critics have slammed the crackdown on dissent, saying the former British colony is losing the freedoms it was promised when it was handed over to Chinese control in 1997.

This year, Hong Kong changed its election laws to reduce the number of directly elected lawmakers and give a largely pro-Beijing committee the leeway to nominate lawmakers aligned with Beijing.

Separately, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam expressed support Tuesday for legislation allowing retaliatory sanctions after the U.S. and other Western governments punished city officials over the crackdown on democracy activists.

Lam said the anti-foreign sanctions law should be adopted in Hong Kong via local legislation, rather than imposed by Beijing, and that she has told the Chinese government about her views.

Lam’s support for the adoption of the anti-sanctions law in Hong Kong came after China implemented a broad anti-sanctions law in June. Anyone hit with retaliatory sanctions could be subject to visa restrictions, have their assets seized or frozen and be banned from doing business with any Chinese company or individual in China.

The law comes after the U.S. slapped sanctions on dozens of Chinese and Hong Kong officials — including Lam — over their role in suppressing Hong Kong's autonomy.

“There are external forces, or foreign governments or Western media, which would make use of the opportunity to weaken our international financial center status as well as a weakening confidence in Hong Kong,” Lam said.