The Hong Kong government banned the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party on Monday on the grounds that the group was a threat to national security.
The government cited the Societies Ordinance to declare the Hong Kong National Party – a loosely knit separatist group advocating a break from China – an illegal organization and banned all its operations in the territory.
Hong Kong Secretary for Security John Lee ordered the ban in an extraordinary gazette published on Monday. He told a media scrum during a press conference at noon that the party was “a threat to national security, public safety and the rights and freedoms of the people” and that the party also “propagated hatred and discrimination.”
Lee said the party’s demands for an independent Hong Kong and a “Hong Kong Republic” without mainland Chinese also promoted social hatred. He insisted the ban was his decision rather than an edict from Beijing.
“I cannot ignore the fact that the Hong Kong National Party has repeatedly advocated that it will use all means, including force, and also encourage its supporters to use force,” he said, adding that even though the party had later on vocally opposed violence, the government remained unconvinced.
Lee said that while freedom of expression and association was enshrined in the city’s constitutional document the Basic Law, these rights were not without limits.
The party can appeal against the ban to the Executive Council within 30 days.
The separatist outfit had been falling into oblivion as Hong Kong’s independent movement until a fresh bid by the government this July to ban its activities.
The party’s convener Andy Chan returned to the spotlight after a defiant invite by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club for a luncheon speech last month, a move that riled Beijing and soured the FCC’s ties with the local authorities.
Chan referred to Beijing as “Peking” in a speech that was seen as lacking in substance or specifics, other than the usual broadsides against Beijing’s authoritarianism and policies toward the former British colony.
He said after the controversial talk that he could end up spending three years behind bars if his party were deemed illegal.
Monday’s ban is indeed an unsurprising outcome after months of deliberation by the Hong Kong government, during which time the party was given three weeks to make a written submission to make a case for itself.
That period had been extended three times all the way to mid-September, and the party reportedly only handed in files after the deadline was passed.
Meanwhile, Chan said in a WhatsApp message that he had no response for the moment, according to RTHK.
Maya Wang, senior China researcher for Human Rights Watch, said the ban was a “milestone” in the Beijing and Hong Kong governments’ assault on Hong Kong’s freedoms.
“The ban violates a range of human rights guaranteed to Hong Kong people, including the rights to freedom of association and assembly,” AFP cited her as saying.
Calls for the city’s independence belong to a “loud minority” even when the majority of supporters of the pan-democratic bloc are fuming at Beijing’s thinly veiled pull in the city more than 21 years after the 1997 handover.
Some observers are also concerned that Beijing and its subordinates in the city have opted to make use of existing laws and regulations, such as the Societies Ordinance the government cited as the legal foundation of the ban, to curtail the space of thought and demands that stray from Beijing’s official line.
This is a typical stopgap tactic to nip the separatist movement in the bud while the city still has no timetable for the contentious national security legislation (Article 23 of the Basic Law), after an aborted attempt by the local government amid massive protests back in July 2003.