The government is likely to ban a pro-independence political party for allegedly posing a danger to national security and territorial integrity.
Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu said he is giving the Hong Kong National Party (HKNP) 21 days to submit a written defense as to why the government should not order the ban.
Lee told media on Tuesday that he is considering a recommendation from an assistant societies officer to issue an order to prohibit the operation of the HKNP, a localist party that was formed in 2016 with an objective to push for Hong Kong independence.
The officer made the recommendation by citing Article 8 of the Societies Ordinance, which stipulates that officials may recommend to the security chief to make an order to prohibit the operation of a society out of national security or public safety concerns, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others, Lee said.
The ordinance also states that the security chief may ban the operation of a group if it has a “connection with a foreign political organization or a political organization of Taiwan”, public broadcaster RTHK reported.
If the HKNP is declared an unlawful society, it will be the first time that a political party is banned since the 1997 handover. The group is not officially registered with the government.
Under the ban, anyone who acts as its member, participates in its meetings, provides material assistance to the group, or incites people to join it, commits an offense and may face imprisonment, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
Lee’s press conference was held after Andy Chan Ho-tin, co-founder and convenor of the HKNP, revealed that a chief police inspector and a senior police inspector visited him earlier on Tuesday and asked him to respond in writing to a stack of documents containing personal and party statements as well as records of its past activities.
Chan believes the government’s move is connected to a July 1 visit he made to Taiwan, where spoke about human rights in Hong Kong at a forum.
On Wednesday, Chan was quoted by public broadcaster RTHK as saying that he may seek a judicial review if the government imposes the ban.
While Lee did not mention the name of the officer who made the recommendation to ban HKNP, the person is understood to be Rebecca Lam Hiu-tong, who is the incumbent Assistant Commissioner of Police (Support). The societies officer is understood to be Police Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung.
While refusing to say exactly what the party had done to make its status subject to a review, Lee noted that although different cases have their own circumstances, the principle that any person or any society in Hong Kong must act within the law must be followed.
Hong Kong people enjoy freedom of association but such right is not without restriction, RTHK quoted Lee as saying.
If Lee orders the ban and has it gazetted, the HKNP can still file an appeal against the decision with the Chief Executive-in-Council, and they together can rescind or change the order.
Asked if he is under any political pressure, Lee stressed that he is acting in accordance with the laws of Hong Kong. He said the SAR government is obliged to maintain national security as any damage to it is not in the interest of the nation and Hong Kong, and it can even cause social instability in the territory.
In a statement issued soon after Lee’s announcement, the HKNP said it has long since lost faith in the “rule of law” in Hong Kong. It also said slammed the proposed ban as “a purely political decision to silence those who dare to represent the true interests of the Hong Kong people and nation”.
On Tuesday night, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor reacted to the issue by saying that both she and the SAR government cannot tolerate anyone who challenges the red line under the “one country” principle in “one country, two systems”.
She said national sovereignty and national interest, as represented in the “one country” principle, must be respected.
Meanwhile, several pro-democracy parties plan to lodge a protest against the proposed ban at the police headquarters in Wan Chai on Wednesday afternoon.
The Civil Human Rights Front, organizer of the annual pro-democracy march on July 1, said it would launch its own street demonstration this Saturday.
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