The US Consulate General in Hong Kong has said the banning of a pro-independence party by the Hong Kong government was “inconsistent” with the values of freedom of expression and freedom of association.

Security chief John Lee issued a ban of the Hong Kong National Party (HKNP) citing the Societies Ordinance on the grounds of “national security, public safety, public order, protection of freedom and the rights of others.” The HKNP is the first group to be banned using the law after the 1997 Handover.

In response to the ban, Harvey Sernovitz, spokesperson of the US Consulate General in Hong Kong, told HKFP: “Freedom of expression and freedom of association are core values that we share with Hong Kong, and which must be vigorously protected.”

US Consulate General, Hong Kong. File photo: Baycrest via Wikimedia Commons.

“The decision of the Hong Kong Government to ban a political party is inconsistent with those important shared values,” Sernovitz said.

“The United States supports the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ framework, under which Hong Kong exercises a high degree of autonomy. We maintain an active and positive relationship with Hong Kong as a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, in keeping with the Hong Kong Policy Act.”

Under the existing United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, Washington supports the democratisation of Hong Kong and human rights for its citizens. The country’s special policy towards the city – which differs to its policy towards China – is only justified if Hong Kong is “sufficiently autonomous.”

Last month, HKNP penned an open letter to US President Donald Trump saying that the city had completely lost its autonomy, and asked Trump to suspend the city’s special trade status.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson of the EU said: “The order by the Security Secretary of the Hong Kong Government to ban the Hong Kong National Party limits the freedom of expression and association, as well as political activity in Hong Kong, and risks having a wider negative impact.”

“Freedom of expression and association are fundamental rights guaranteed by Hong Kong’s Bill of Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and should be protected. The European Union fully abides by its ‘One China’ policy and supports the ‘one country, two systems’ principle.”

Andy Chan. Photo: Hong Kong National Party, via Facebook.

The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: “We are concerned by the decision of the Hong Kong SAR Government to prohibit the HKNP. This is the first time a party has been banned under the Societies Ordinance since the handover.”

“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.”

At a press conference on Monday to explain reasons for the ban, John Lee listed HKNP’s activities including its application to register as a company, running in elections, recruiting members, and publishing three issues of a magazine, among others.

Democratic Party lawmaker James To said that, according to international standards, a decision to ban a political party must be based on the grounds that their expressions will directly and immediately cause violence.

To said Lee publicly admitted on Monday that HKNP’s actions have yet to involve any violence, and its convener had – on some occasions – indicated they would use non-violent means to achieve independence.

“It seems that the facts about HKNP – that the security secretary has knowledge of – are far from reaching the high international standard,” To said.

James To Kun-sun. File photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

To said if the government uses such a low standard to ban political groups, many other groups will be in danger, such as the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China – one of the city’s biggest pro-democracy groups.

“Some of our standing committee members – although not under the name of the Alliance – run for the Legislative Council, we hold rallies of more than 100,000 people, and we chant sensitive slogans such as ‘end one-party dictatorship,’” To said.

“Today the ‘red line’ is drawn at Hong Kong independence. We don’t know where the red line will move tomorrow.”

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.