Ban on Hong Kong National Party over ‘armed revolution’ call met with both cheers and fear
The United States, Britain and European Union decry unprecedented decision to outlaw party, while Beijing and pro-establishment lawmakers in Hong Kong say move sends strong message not to test limits of the law
A Hong Kong separatist party was officially banned by the government on Monday on national security grounds, with Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu saying its willingness to use force meant its pro-independence calls could not be regarded as mere “political rhetoric”.
Instead, the Hong Kong National Party’s (HKNP) statements could potentially motivate followers to “cause violence and public disorder”, and this was a “compelling” reason to take preventive action against them, he said.
The ban, which took effect immediately when the government published a gazette notice on Monday morning, came 10 days after the party and its convenor, Andy Chan Ho-tin, submitted their case against being outlawed.
It won support from Beijing and pro-establishment lawmakers but Hong Kong’s pro-democracy bloc decried the move as an infringement of civil liberties and warned it spelled danger for other political groups and activists.
Under the ban, anyone who associates with the party by serving the group, participating in gatherings or providing financial assistance could be liable on conviction to a fine and jail sentence of two to three years.
It was not immediately clear if 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. Asked if it would delete the HKNP’s Facebook page, which has close to 30,000 followers, the social media giant declined to comment.
The minister assured Hongkongers the government was not clamping down on their freedoms, a concern that had emerged when police revealed in July their recommendation to slap an unprecedented ban on the party under the Societies Ordinance, further crushing an already marginalised pro-independence movement in the city.
Lee had initially given the party 21 days to defend itself before he made his decision, later allowing three extensions until September 14.
At a press briefing on Monday, Lee argued the ban was made to “safeguard national security, public safety, public order and the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”.
He detailed how the party had in the past two years built support for its cause, even calling for an “armed revolution”, though he conceded the group had not resorted to violence.
First, the party had tried to register as a company, with Chan then taking part in the Legislative Council election two years ago “to obtain more resources [and to allow it] the opportunity to be more noticed, so as to achieve its goal”.
The party also made plans to recruit members, infiltrate schools, advertise what it wanted to achieve and set up street booths to muster support.
“It has also made it very clear that it will make use of all means to achieve its goals, and this includes the option of using force; it has also used [the] term ‘armed revolution’.”
In a 20-page letter to Chan and party spokesman Jason Chow Ho-fai’s legal teams, Lee added the party had built ties with anti-China and pro-independence activists overseas, such as those fighting for independence for Tibet, Xinjiang, southern Mongolia and Taiwan.
Referring to Chan’s talk at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC), where he insisted separation was Hong Kong’s only option and called for US President Donald Trump to sanction China and the city, Lee said it was a strategy to “weaken China so that Hong Kong would stand a better chance of becoming independent”.
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The party’s persistence in pursuing Hong Kong independence had gone beyond what is “part of ordinary political activity”. And if left unchecked, a continuation of its anti-mainlander sentiment – it referred to them as “enemies who invade and colonise Hong Kong” – could undermine public safety or public order, Lee concluded.
Hong Kong still had freedom of assembly, the minister said, but this right “was not without limits”.
Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong, which had pressured the FCC to cancel Chan’s talk, said it “firmly supports” Lee’s decision, according to state news agency Xinhua.
A Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office spokesman said the HKNP’s actions seriously contravened the Chinese constitution and the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
“It also challenged the bottom line of ‘one country, two systems’ and threatened national security and territorial integrity,” the spokesman said.
A US consulate spokesman did not refer to the HKNP in a statement issued on Monday evening, but described the Hong Kong government’s decision to ban “a political party” as inconsistent with freedom of expression and association. These were core values the US shared with Hong Kong and must be vigorously protected, he said.
Britain’s Foreign Office expressed its concern at the ban, adding: “The UK 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.”
The European Union said the ban “limits freedom of expression and association, as well as political activity in Hong Kong, and risks having a wider negative impact”.
In a statement, 35 pro-establishment lawmakers endorsed the ban.
“I hope the government’s decision sends a strict and clear signal to society that any independence advocacy is not allowed in Hong Kong,” said Starry Lee Wai-king, the leader of the city’s largest pro-establishment party.
The chairwoman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong urged other pro-independence groups to “stop testing” the laws.
But pro-democracy groups such as the Democratic Party, the Civic Party, Demosisto and the Council Front slammed the decision.
Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun, representing the largest party in the opposition bloc, said the HKNP’s actions did not justify the ban, noting that even Lee acknowledged it had not used violence.
To warned that other groups in the city, including the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which organises an annual vigil to mark the Tiananmen Square crackdown, could be next in the line of fire.
The alliance has long called for an end to “one-party dictatorship” in China.
“Today they say Hong Kong independence is the ‘red line’. We don’t know where the line will be moved tomorrow,” To said.
Joshua Wong Chi-fung, co-founder of localist party Demosisto, said the ban was a blow to the entire pro-democracy camp.
“The definition of national security is so broad that any calls for democracy could be blamed as posing threats to national security,” Wong said.
Tian Feilong, an associate professor at Beihang University’s law school in Beijing, said the ban meant other separatist groups would need to “adjust their positions ... so as to not cross the line”.
But he did not expect the Hong Kong government to invoke the Societies Ordinance lightly in future.
“The government will strike a balance between safeguarding national security and guaranteeing freedom of assembly. It would go against the Basic Law and convention in Hong Kong if the government invoked the law in an arbitrary manner.”
Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu said it was “shameful” for the Hong Kong government to target individuals with “specific views”.
“This is a very bad move for Hong Kong,” Yeung said.
It had set a precedent that would result in the banning of more opposition parties in future, he believed.
Chan said he would not comment on the ban for now.
Additional reporting by Kimmy Chung and Sum Lok-kei