Pro-Hong Kong independence party officially banned in unprecedented move

Irving Hamilton
September 24, 2018

A Hong Kong separatist party was officially banned by the government on national security grounds, on Monday, with Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu saying its willingness to use force meant its pro-independence calls could not be treated as mere "political slogans".

John Lee, the territory's secretary for security, announced that the Hong Kong National Party will be prohibited from operation from Monday.

But Hong Kong's security bureau had previously said in a letter to the National Party's leader, 27-year-old Andy Chan, that the party should be dissolved "in the interests of national security or public safety, public order or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others".

The Hong Kong government said that while it backed freedom of speech and the press, allowing Chan to speak contravened the city's mini-constitution.

Semi-autonomous Hong Kong enjoys freedoms unseen on the mainland including freedom of expression but the space for political dissent is shrinking in the face of an increasingly assertive China under President Xi Jinping. Beijing resists any challenges to its sovereignty in Hong Kong.

Andy Chan, convener of the Hong Kong National Party, told reporters on Monday that he does not wish to comment on the ban at this time.

Critics say the ban sets a worrying precedent for how the Societies Ordinance will be invoked in future.

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Activists calling for Hong Kong's independence from China emerged after mass pro-democracy rallies in 2014 failed to win reforms.

Local government efforts to find ways of cracking down on the independence movement follows a warning a year ago from President Xi Xinping during a visit to the city that any attempt to endanger China's sovereignty crossed a "red line". Yet the ban on HKNP has thrust it into the spotlight and may help the party gain new support.

But pro-independence campaigners including Chan have since been blocked from standing for office and others disqualified from the legislature.

However, uncertainty remained as to whether Hongkongers who expressed their views on the party on social media or journalists who interviewed party members and reported their remarks would be flouting the ban. Leading independence activist Edward Leung was jailed for six years in June on rioting charges after clashes with police in 2016.

Chan's high-profile speech at the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents' Club on August 14 drew a strong reaction from the police, who considered the speech to be additional evidence in their case against Chan and his party.

"[Chan] publicly said China is Hong Kong's coloniser, and mainlanders are enemies of Hong Kong people".

The authorities could not rule out action against other groups, including those promoting "self determination" as well as full independence, he said.

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