Britain calls for ‘full respect’ of Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms, as pro-independence party faces shutdown threat
Statement from foreign office says it is concerned about authorities’ proposal to ban Hong Kong National Party
Britain and the United States voiced concerns on Wednesday over the Hong Kong government’s unprecedented attempt to ban a separatist party, calling for the city’s high degree of autonomy, rights and freedoms to be respected.
The remarks came after the Security Bureau revealed on Tuesday that police had recommended shutting down the Hong Kong National Party (HKNP), a pro-independence organisation formed in 2016, citing the need to protect national security.
Party co-founder Andy Chan Ho-tin revealed on Wednesday morning that police had handed him a 700-page stack of documents, largely comprising transcripts of speeches he had given and events he had attended.
The small group of about 50 members was given 21 days to submit a written reply to contest the ban.
In a statement released in the early hours of Wednesday, the British foreign office said: “We note with concern the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government plans to prohibit the continued operation of the Hong Kong National Party.”
“The United Kingdom does not support Hong Kong independence, but Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, and its rights and freedoms, are central to its way of life, and it is important they are fully respected,” its spokesman said.
He added that Hongkongers’ freedom of association was stipulated in the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, as well as the Hong Kong Bill of Rights.
Darragh Paradiso, a spokeswoman for the US consulate in the city, said it was closely following reports that the Hong Kong government was considering a ban on the HKNP.
"Freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association are core values shared by the people of the United States and Hong Kong, and should be vigorously protected," she said.
“We believe that Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity are built on the rule of law, which includes protections for political speech and other democratic norms enshrined in the Basic Law. We are concerned by any actions that could be perceived to erode these protections.”
The UK had previously released a statement in January concerning the barring of Demosisto member Agnes Chow Ting from contesting a Legislative Council by-election. Last week, members from both houses of the British parliament signed a letter to call on their government to raise the “erosion of rule of law and basic freedoms” in Hong Kong at the UN.
HKNP’s Chan accused the government of “skilfully packaging” a political issue as a legal one, similar to how it had handled the disqualification of election candidates by electoral officers.
“It proves again that Hong Kong people’s freedom of speech is not protected by law, and there’s no rule of law in Hong Kong,” he said on Wednesday.
Chan added that the move did not surprise him because there had been talk of banning his party as early as a year ago.
The HKNP co-founder said police delivered the pile of documents to his home at 9am on Tuesday, including a notification letter and other materials. The letter stated that Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu, after receiving a recommendation from police, had issued an order to ban the party.
Most of the documents contained detailed transcripts with highlights of events and talks Chan had taken part in, including events in Taiwan, on the radio, at press conferences and on the streets, which the authorities had deemed to have harmed national security.
“There must have been a lot of [police] monitoring of me all the time,” he said.
The documents also included an appendix on Section 8 of the Societies Ordinance.
Chan said his party was described by police as having dozens of members, but only two people – himself and party spokesman Jason Chow Ho-fai – were named in the materials.
“It seems that there are no questions listed for me to answer,” he said, adding that it was not clear what he was supposed to do at this stage.
Chan said he had a lawyer reviewing the documents and would wait for a legal opinion before deciding on a response. When asked if he would apply for a judicial review, he said it was possible.