Hong Kong Bans Pro-Independence Party
On Sept. 24, 2018, Hong Kong’s Secretary of Security John Lee Ka-chiu announced a ban on the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party (HKNP) along with any form of aid or support for the political party. This ban follows a request made earlier this year by Hong Kong’s police, which sought to ban the party under the Societies Ordinance — a public law dating back to Hong Kong’s time as a British possession which states that organizations can be dissolved on the grounds of public safety and national security. As such, the HKNP has become the first-ever political party to be banned under the Ordinance since Hong Kong reverted to China in 1997.
The HKNP was founded in 2016 and only has a few hundred supporters; however, the party has drawn intense scrutiny from both the governments of Hong Kong and China. Under Andy Chan, the 28-year-old interior designer leading the party, the HKNP campaigned for what was promised by the Chinese government for Hong Kong under the “one country, two systems” arrangement, most notably the wide-ranging freedoms and local political autonomy enjoyed by Hong Kong under British rule.
The issue of identity also plays a role in the discourse surrounding Hong Kong independence, with the younger generation identifying chiefly as “Hongkonger” before “Chinese,” if at all. A 2017 poll found that just 3.1% of Hongkongers between the age of 18 and 29 identify as Chinese, compared to 65% who identified themselves as Hongkongers.
For a year now, Andy has been harassed by the Hong Kong government through violations of personal privacy and media criticism. On Aug. 14, the Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC) came under pressure to cancel an address Chan had made to members where he argued that China was an imperialist power erasing Hong Kong’s identity.
Per the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, which serves as Hong Kong’s constitution, the city is mandated by Article 23 to “enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, [and] subversion against the Central People’s Government” in Beijing. Under the provisions of the Societies Ordinance, anyone found assisting the party — financially or otherwise — is liable to a hefty fine and a jail sentence of two to three years.
The ramifications of the ban have begun to reverberate beyond Hong Kong. While the HKNP’s Facebook page remains intact as of Friday evening, local media report that the Hong Kong government has formally requested the social media giant take down the page. In the light of the trade war between the US and China, Facebook’s could be seen as taking a stance more closely aligned with US’s views on freedom of speech.
Security Minister Lee justified the ban by citing the HKNP’s attempt to spread hatred and discrimination against mainlanders in Hong Kong, thus undermining the freedoms of the Chinese. Despite recognizing that the separatist party has never resorted to violence, Lee said that it could not neglect the potential threat the party holds as HKNP has stated that it would use all means to achieve its goals, including force.
Critics across the globe, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Human Rights Watch, have voiced their concern that the ban would set a chilling precedent for political discourse and media activity. Hong Kong’s Security Bureau has stated that the action has “no relation to press freedom.” Meanwhile, Heather Nauert, US State Department Spokesperson, tweeted on Tuesday night that the US supports “freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association”, and that these core values of Hong Kong must be “vigorously protected.”