In an unprecedented move, the Hong Kong government is considering banning a political party. It is the first and the most severe attempt against separatists since the city’s return to China.
The move has stirred an uproar at home and abroad.
Targeting the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party (HKNP), Hong Kong police cited the Societies Ordinance to justify the ban request on grounds of national security and public safety. The HKNP has 21 days to raise objections.
Article 8 of the Societies Ordinance stipulates that “the Societies Officer may recommend to the Secretary for Security to make an order prohibiting the operation or continued operation of the society or the branch if he reasonably believes that the prohibition of the operation or continued operation of a society or a branch is necessary in the interests of national security or public safety, public order or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
The law was promulgated in 1949 to target triads. It is the first time that particular clause has been used against a political party.
Gov’t: National threat
In a press conference on Tuesday, Secretary for Security John Lee said his bureau is considering the police request and that the prohibition order has not been issued.
Mr Lee said that national security means safeguarding the territorial integrity and independence of the People’s Republic of China.
HKNP’s convener Andy Chan argued the party has not registered as a society.
The Companies Registry also turned down its registration in 2016.
But Mr Lee claims that any group of more than one person is considered to be a society under the ordinance, regardless of whether the group is registered.
“In Hong Kong we have freedom of association, but that right is not without restrictions,” Mr Lee said.
“According to the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance, restrictions can be made by law if it is necessary in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health and morals, or the protection of the rights and freedom of others.”
“The wording of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance is exactly the same wording of the provisions in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). We are acting in accordance with the laws of Hong Kong,” he explained.
But human rights advocates and lawyers point out that ICCPR and international laws suggest otherwise.
Law Yuk-kai, director of Hong Kong Human Rights Watch, said that ICCPR promotes freedom of speech. He said the government’s argument is groundless.
According to Articles 18, 19, 21 and 22 of ICCPR, everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, the right to freedom of expression, the right of peaceful assembly and the right to freedom of association with others.
“The Societies Officer cannot act subjectively and there are international laws to serve as objective reference,” Mr Law said. “The government has to prove the HKNP intends to incite violence to justify its move. Even you disagree with their political view, they are only spreading ideas non-violently.”
The Johannesburg Principles On National Security, Freedom Of Expression And Access To Information are an example.
The principles stipulate that “expression may be punished as a threat to national security only if a government can demonstrate that: (a) the expression is intended to incite imminent violence; (b) it is likely to incite such violence; and (c) there is a direct and immediate connection between the expression and the likelihood or occurrence of such violence.”
Civic Party leader and lawmaker Alan Leong Kah-kit also argued there is no ground for banning the HKNP based on the European Convention on Human Rights.
“The HKNP so far has not resorted to force and done anything illegal that harms democracy. It’s only speech at the moment, not action. The government will need to bring up really strong evidence to support its decision for the ban,” Mr Leung said.
“The definition of national security is also not clear. Its interpretation all comes down to those who govern,” he added.
In a statement, the United Kingdom said that while it does not support Hong Kong independence, the city’s high degree of autonomy and its rights and freedoms must be respected.
“The rights to stand for election, of free speech and of freedom of association are enshrined in the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights,” said the UK government.
Article 27 of the Basic Law provides that “Hong Kong residents shall have freedom of speech, of the press and of publication; freedom of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration; and the right and freedom to form and join trade unions, and to strike.”
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