Advocacy of separatism will be suppressed, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam warns as she breaks silence on proposed ban for political party
Government must ‘resolutely and without ambiguity’ uphold Chinese sovereignty, safety and territorial integrity, she says
Any advocacy of separatism in Hong Kong “most certainly will face suppression”, the city’s leader, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, warned on Wednesday as she broke her week-long silence on the proposed ban of a pro-independence party.
While signalling that the marginalised independence movement could face legal consequences for the first time, the chief executive also said any moves would be done lawfully.
Meanwhile, the police, which recommended the ban on the Hong Kong National Party (HKNP) to the security minister, remained tight-lipped on whether they faced pressure from Beijing to push for a crackdown on the group.
The force had earlier argued that the HKNP posed an “imminent threat” to national security although it had not been involved in any violence since being established in March 2016.
The party has until August 7 to register its opposition to the ban.
Legal scholars and pan-democrats argued that the proposed ban contravened human rights and people’s freedom of association.
While the government has frequently made clear its opposition to independence, the most Lam’s administration had done previously was issue a statement rebuking liberal scholar Benny Tai Yiu-ting for suggesting at a forum in Taiwan in March the city could “consider becoming an independent state”.
Lam said she would not specifically comment on the HKNP case, but stressed her government must “resolutely and without ambiguity” uphold Chinese sovereignty, safety and territorial integrity.
“Any speech or acts to advocate Hong Kong independence will not be condoned and most certainly will face suppression,” Lam said before leaving for Beijing on Wednesday evening.
Although Lam added her administration would “definitely do things according to the law”, her remarks raised eyebrows since the HKNP could lodge an appeal with the chief executive, who along with the Executive Council, her cabinet, would review the ban.
One Exco member, Ronny Tong Ka-wah, earlier publicly backed the ban to prevent the party from inciting violence. Another adviser, Wong Kwok-kin, said in an interview with a local Chinese newspaper that there was no room for independence.
In response, HKNP founder Andy Chan Ho-tin slammed Lam and Exco, saying they should remain neutral and “not comment before anything has even started”.
One source close to Chan’s legal team also said Lam’s remark might be brought up if Chan decided to launch a judicial review after a ban was imposed.
“There is no procedure whatsoever on how the Chief Executive in Council will consider the ban,” the source said.
“For some fairness, shouldn’t some members be recused to avoid preconceived standards?”
Senior counsel Paul Shieh Wing-tai said that while Lam was ambiguous on whether the HKNP was subject to “suppression”, her affirmation on following the law could negate legal challenges by Chan that she was being unfair.
Shieh said: “She could argue that if the law permits, we’ll crack down [on independence parties], if it doesn’t, we won’t.”
Eric Cheung Tat-ming, principal lecturer of the University of Hong Kong’s law school, said that with the government and officials taking a clear stance against independence, there could be no independent mechanism to appeal the ban.
Although Hong Kong law allows room for people to shout for independence, the HKNP case may yet prove to be a slippery slope that restricts such a right in some incidences, he added.
“Lawmakers or anyone taking up public office may be disqualified,” Cheung said, referring to the ousting of two pro-independence lawmakers. “Although ordinary individuals can still speak about it, any organised effort to advocate for independence may be curbed.”
Lam twice shrugged off questions on whether other parties that advocate self-determination, such as Demosisto, could also be banned.
“Each case will be determined on relevant laws and evidence,” she said.
On Wednesday, the police’s director of operations, Chris Tang Ping-keung, twice sidestepped the Post’s question on whether the central government had ever ordered the force to look into any societies that might jeopardise national security.
“We will start an investigation if we believe that someone or an organisation has breached the law. The Hong Kong police only act in accordance with the law and evidence,” said Tang, who is tipped to be the next police commissioner.
Tang would not elaborate on what actions would be regarded as a security threat, only echoing what police chief Stephen Lo Wai-chung said previously that the force had a responsibility to follow up on any individuals and societies that may have breached the law.
“We will handle any case in accordance with the legal provisions and evidence gathered and base it on the actual circumstances. Each case should be considered on its own merits,” Tang added.