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Hong Kong localism and independence

Hong Kong protesters channel Catalan spirit as they march for independence while testing limits of ban that saw separatist party in the city outlawed

Rival protesters clash before march in support of banned Hong Kong National Party, while officers from Organised Crime and Triad Bureau record every word and say they’ll take action retrospectively if necessary

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 October, 2018, 2:18pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 October, 2018, 1:42pm

A week after the Hong Kong National Party was outlawed on the grounds of national security, activists were not afraid to test the limits of the ban, waving the Catalonian flag and banners calling for independence during a protest march on Monday.

Chanting “Hong Kong is not China”, a 30-strong group marched on government headquarters, carrying the flag of the Spanish region a year after its referendum on independence.

The move came as police officers from the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau monitored every word and movement by independence activists during the march to Admiralty.

Before the protest, a police source said officers would be focusing on any mention of support for the Hong Kong National Party, the separatist group banned by the Security Bureau last week on the grounds it posed a threat to national security and public order.

But, activists had said they expected to be watched, and avoided explicitly spelling out their support for the group.

Chris Chow Chi-kit, a member of Studentlocalism, said the Catalan flags were a reference to the shared situation in which both autonomous regions found themselves.

“We are both fighting against the sovereign states, Catalonia against Spain, just like Hong Kong against China,” he said.

Chow said any independence group in Hong Kong faced being banned in future, but until then, they were doing whatever they could to rally support from the public.

Chow’s group, the Students Independence Union, and Hong Kong National Front, all joined a march organised by the Civil Human Rights Front on China’s National Day.

The rally, which began in Causeway Bay, drew a crowd of 1,500 people demanding an inquiry into recent scandals surrounding the Sha Tin-Central link. Police estimated 1,256 people attended the march at its peak.

The independence camp joined midway through, from the Southorn Playground, in Wan Chai. Their day began with the police having to separate 20 pro-independence and pro-Beijing supporters from an hour-long heated exchange, but the march itself remained largely peaceful, with no mention of the HKNP.

Paladin Cheng, who helped liaise the march with the three active independence groups, told the Post beforehand they would avoid mentioning the party, or chanting “Support HKNP”.

Cheng said protesters needed to be careful to avoid breaking any laws.

Any person who claims to be a party member or provides “any aid” to HKNP may commit an offence under the Societies Ordinance, although legal experts have said simply chanting support for HKNP would likely not be seen as “aid”.

Under the ordinance, being a member, or providing money or aid to an unlawful society can be punishable by a year in jail and HK$20,000 (HK$2,600) fine. The greater offence of “assisting in managing” an unlawful society carries a heavier three-year jail term, and HK$100,000 fine.

“The term ‘aid to unlawful society’ is very blurry, and we have to ensure participants feel at ease to join our rally,” Cheng said before the start.

“The government may come up with all sorts of funny tricks against the independence camp, and it’s best to play safe and minimise the risk.”

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Officers from the triad bureau, who have been assigned to coordinate all investigations in relation to the HKNP, monitored the activists during their protests.

One source said officers would also film the march, and record what activists said during the protests.

“If necessary, officers will look into the recordings to gather evidence and seek legal advice from the Department of Justice to see whether what is said in the protests is illegal, or breaches the law [under the Societies Ordinance],” the source said.

The police source did not believe chanting support for the HKNP broke the law, but it would be illegal if any protesters claimed to be a member of the party.

“If necessary, officers will look into the recordings to gather evidence and seek legal advice from the Department of Justice to see whether what is said in the protests is illegal, or breaches the law [under the Societies Ordinance],” the source said.

The police source did not believe chanting support for the HKNP broke the law, but it would be illegal if any protesters claimed to be a member of the party.

Most of the pro-independence activists left the march after it passed Methodists House in Wan Chai. Outside the government headquarters, scuffles broke out as two protesters were stopped from entering the forecourt as both held banners with pro-independence slogans.

One of the slogans read: “If Hong Kong doesn’t get independence, it will become the mainland.”

Two security guards were reportedly pushed to the ground and injured during the scuffle, with both being taken to hospital as a precaution afterwards.

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The main thrust of the Front’s protest was focused on the scandals surrounding the MTR Corporation.

Calling for an independent inquiry into the construction issues that have plagued the rail operator, the CHRF’s Jimmy Shan Tsz-kit mocked the government and pro-establishment camp.

The government was, Sham said, more concerned with stirring up national security concerns around the HKNP, than the safety of its own citizens.

“Isn’t it academic to talk about national security when the city we live in is not safe,” he said.

Earlier in the day Sham said his group was against Hong Kong independence, but it would not stop any groups joining the march, if they also supported the Front’s cause.