We wouldn’t watch any group if it wasn’t breaking the law, says police chief after ban threat against pro-independence Hong Kong National Party
Stephen Lo refuses to comment on force’s recommendation that party be banned, in first comments since it came to light
Hong Kong’s police chief said on Monday the force was duty-bound to investigate and gather “criminal evidence” against any group found to be acting illegally, even as he declined to comment on the impending ban of a pro-independence party.
Commissioner of Police Stephen Lo Wai-chung was making his first comments since the Security Bureau a week ago revealed it was considering the force’s recommendation to ban the Hong Kong National Party (HKNP).
Lo refused to be drawn into commenting on the case and also whether officers were gathering evidence against other political groups that have advocated self-determination or independence on suspicion of threatening national security, such as pro-democracy party Demosisto.
On Sunday Andy Chan Ho-tin, leader of the HKNP, said he would not rule out fighting for his group’s survival in the courts, should the government go ahead and ban it.
In an 86-page document submitted to the Security Bureau, and sent to Chan on Tuesday, Assistant Commissioner of Police Rebecca Lam Hiu-tong argued that the party posed an “imminent threat” to national security.
The document came with 20 disks and 706 pages of word-by-word transcripts of the 51 speeches made by party members online, at public events and in media interviews. The party was given 21 days to submit its case as to why the security minister should not act on the police recommendation.
Making his first public appearance since the news broke, Lo was asked to give more details about the police’s stance on political groups advocating Hong Kong’s independence or self-determination.
He only said: “Under the Societies Ordinance ... if we, the police, detect illegal conduct by a certain social group, we have the responsibility to gather criminal evidence and report it to the Security Bureau.”
Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu previously said that while the party had not officially registered with the government as a society under the law, any group with more than one member was regarded by law enforcement agencies as a society.
The commissioner said on Monday that the police “would not notice or pay attention” to any group if it is “not involved in any illegal act”.
“If an organisation was not involved in any illegal act, we would not pay attention to it at all. We would collect evidence only when [members] start to act illegally. This is like how we look for evidence and take enforcement action if a robbery or a crime case breaks out,” he added.
The police’s recommendation raised questions of whether the city’s much-valued legal pillars such as civil liberties and the freedom of association had been compromised.
But Lo insisted the force “absolutely respects” the freedom of assembly and association.
Lo was speaking after taking a tour of the annual Hong Kong Book Fair, during which he visited several booths, along with about 10 young people from the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups.
During the tour, one of the young people asked Lo what young Hongkongers should do to contribute to society. Lo said the most important thing was for young people to “keep their feet on the ground”.
“Nowadays a lot of young people want to change society whenever they see any sign of injustice. But young people should achieve this goal step by step, or any effort will just end up being fake, hollow and impractical,” he said.