Youngspiration and HKNP barred from operating stalls at Hong Kong’s largest Lunar New Year fair
Officials cite public order and safety concerns, but localist leaders decry decision as violation of free speech
Two pro-independence political parties have been barred by the government from operating stalls at the city’s largest Lunar New Year fair due to public order and safety concerns, prompting at least one localist leader to blast the decision as violating free speech.
Youngspiration and the Hong Kong National Party received a letter from the head of Food and Environmental Hygiene Department on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively, saying that the department believed that the items the parties intended to sell and the activities they had planned for the event in Victoria Park, Causeway Bay from January 22 to 28 would be related to their pro-independence messages.
It added that the fair would be packed with visitors, with some approving of and others disagreeing with the parties’ political ideas, and that such a situation would probably endanger public order and public safety.
The licence agreements signed by the parties and the Leisure and Cultural Services Department in November over the operation of the stalls had been terminated with immediate effect to safeguard public interest, the letter stated, noting that the agreement carried a clause empowering the LCSD to terminate it at any time.
Hong Kong National Party convenor Andy Chan Ho-tin fumed at the move, saying it was unreasonable to ban his party just because the government believed its political ideas might attract dissenters.
The party had secured a stall with HK$18,000 at a public auction last year.
“This could mean that any anyone with political ideas that might draw opponents should not join the fair. Then the FEHD should also disqualify all political parties at the fair,” Chan said.
“[The letter] said we would advocate certain political ideas, but they didn’t have any evidence. This will affect Hong Kong’s business environment. We did pay and sign an agreement,” he added.
This would have been the first time the party, which was founded in March, took part in the fair, which has seen participation by political parties from different camps in the past.
Baggio Leung Chung-hang, disqualified lawmaker from Youngspiration, told the media on Thursday that he demanded the FEHD to give a full explanation before the end of office hours on Friday.
“We are furious with what the FEHD has done. I believe none of the Lunar New Year stalls have been terminated like this before,” said Leung.
He would decide what to do next after hearing from the FEHD.
But he ruled out the possibility of lodging an appeal, which required 10 days to complete.
Youngspiration had earlier said that the government had acted groundlessly, as the party had not yet decided what to sell at the event. The party said it would continue to try to operate a stall at the fair.
On Thursday, Chan said the ban violated freedom of speech as protected by the Basic Law.
“It is definitely political suppression,” he said, adding it was a long-standing practice of local political parties to operate stalls at the Lunar New Year fair.
Chan said their merchandise, comprising books and apparel, broke no local laws.
“The terms of the contract didn’t specify that we can’t sell anything about Hong Kong independence,” the activist said, claiming they had fulfilled all the licence agreement conditions.
“Since our Hong Kong National Party was established, I couldn’t run in the Legislative Council elections, I couldn’t register a company in my name, and now we can’t even set up a stall in the market,” he added.
Party member Jason Chow Ho-fai, who had previously bid and got permission for the stall, said they were considering writing an open letter to US president-elect Donald Trump to urge him to take note of Hong Kong’s current political situation.
The party said it was also considering filing a claim against the authority to seek compensation.