Hong Kong’s security secretary John Lee has said that the Hong Kong National Party (HKNP) has 21 days to justify why it should not be banned, in what amounts to the toughest move yet against the city’s pro-independence movement.
The convener of the embattled party, Andy Chan Ho-tin, told HKFP that police officers handed him a set of documents on Tuesday morning asking him to answer some questions. He said the papers listed many of his past activities, including speeches he made and rallies he attended in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Lee said he cannot reveal the details of the documents sent to HKNP, but repeatedly told the press that the move was in the interests of national security: “In Hong Kong we have freedom of association, but that right is not without restriction.”
He said restrictions on the freedom of association can be made for reasons listed in the Bill of Rights, such as “national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
Under section 8(1)(a) of the Societies Ordinance, the Societies Officer may recommend that the security secretary prohibit a society if there are national security or safety concerns, or the rights of others are infringed.
It would be the first time since the city’s 1997 Handover to China that the section of law has been used.
In explaining “national security,” Lee said it was related to the safeguarding of territorial integrity and the independence of the People’s Republic of China.
Lee said it was unrelated to another section of the ordinance, which states that societies can be banned if connected to a foreign political organisation or a political organisation of Taiwan.
He also said it had nothing to do with the national security law, which was failed to be legislated in 2003 after mass protests.
Lee said that, if HKNP is banned after his decision is made, any person who is or acts as a member of an unlawful society, attends one of their meetings or gives them money, could be subjected to a HK$50,000 fine and two years of imprisonment.
Chan said he has not tried to register his party as a society, though the Companies Registry refused to register the party in 2016.
However, Lee said that, according to the Ordinance, any groups of more than one person are considered to be societies.
‘Damage’ China’s interests
In a Facebook statement posted on Tuesday afternoon, the National Party said it had lost faith in the rule of law: “The Hong Kong National and Independence Movements are, in their core, both struggles to fight back and drive out the Chinese colonisers. Today we Hong Kongers stand in opposition to our enemies, these Chinese colonisers and their puppets in the current Hong Kong government, and it is this antagonism that defines our movement.”
See also: National Party founder Andy Chan says party ‘unmasked’ Hong Kong’s political reality
“The Hong Kong National Party hereby call upon all supporters and sympathisers of the Hong Kong cause to realise this, and lend your support to any cause and act that damages the interests of China.”
Pro-democracy camp convener lawmaker Charles Mok said they were very shocked by the move, and believed it was unnecessary.
“It is creating trouble at this relative calm time, and it may spark the pro-independence movement again,” he said.
Mok said the law was used to suppress triads, and it was “rather ridiculous” to be used for the first time against political dissent.
“There must be some forces behind our government, or beyond our government, to further divide Hong Kong,” he said.
Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong lawmaker Gary Chan said his party supported using the ordinance to ban HKNP.
He said the move was “legal and reasonable.” He said the HKNP’s goal to build a Hong Kong republic was a clear violation of the Chinese constitution and the Basic Law.
Banned from election
Chan was one of the six election hopefuls barred from running in the 2016 Legislative Council race over his political views. He had intended to run in the New Territories West constituency as leader of the Hong Kong National Party in 2016.
He signed a confirmation form vowing to uphold the Basic Law as required by the electoral office. He was asked by an election official if he would maintain his pro-independence position, but Chan did not give a reply.
Chan then received a notice from the returning officer saying that he was barred from standing as a candidate.