(New York) – The Hong Kong government’s decision to ban the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party is a grim sign for human rights in the territory, Human Rights Watch said today. It is the first time a political party has been banned since Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.
On September 24, 2018, Hong Kong’s secretary for security, John Lee, announced that “the operation or continued operation of the Hong Kong National Party in Hong Kong be prohibited,” effective immediately. Media reports say that Lee stated in a 20-page document to the party’s convener, Andy Chan, that the party’s promotion of Hong Kong independence was a “blatant violation” of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, its functional constitution. The party’s activities, including efforts to work with groups that advocate Tibet’s or Taiwan’s independence, had gone beyond “ordinary political activity.” He also alleged that the party had “incited hatred” toward mainland Chinese in Hong Kong, calling them “enemies who invade and colonize.”
“Human rights in Hong Kong have been on the ropes in recent years, but this ban is a body blow to Hong Kong people’s ability to express their views, join with like-minded people, and run for office,” said Sophie Richardson, China director. “Authorities in Hong Kong should immediately reverse this small-minded decision that has far-reaching implications.”
The government’s decision follows a police recommendation in July that the party should be disbanded under the Societies Ordinance. The police acknowledged that the party had not committed any violent acts but considered a ban necessary as “preventive measures” because “the possibility of HKNP using force to achieve its goal” could not be ruled out.
On September 24, Lee told the media that the Hong Kong National Party had called for “an armed revolution.” In April 2016, Chan had said he could not rule out the use of “armed revolution” in the future as a last resort. This August, Chan publicly condemned violence and said his party had never advocated violence.
The government disqualified Chan in 2016 from running for the Legislative Council (LegCo) because it had deemed his pro-independence stances “incompatible with the Basic Law.” In April 2017, the Companies Registry rejected the party’s application on the grounds that the promotion of “Hong Kong independence is against the Basic Law.” In August, Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry officials demanded that the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club cancel a talk by Chan, and local authorities criticized the club when it refused to do so.
In recent years mainland and Hong Kong authorities have refused to take steps toward genuine universal suffrage, a right guaranteed in the Basic Law, and instead have encroached on those rights. Beginning in 2016, Hong Kong authorities have disqualified candidates from running for seats on the LegCo or unseated them after they were elected based on their peacefully expressed views. These actions were in violation of the basic right to seek political office, which is guaranteed under the Basic Law, and the territory’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
In July 2016, Hong Kong’s Electoral Affairs Commission announced a new requirement that candidates running for the LegCo must formally declare their recognition of Hong Kong as an “inalienable part” of China. Election officers then disqualified six candidates who had advocated the territory’s independence, including Chan. Following the 2016 LegCo elections, in which a number of outspoken pro-democracy candidates won seats, Beijing issued an “interpretation” of the Basic Law that compelled the Hong Kong courts to disqualify two legislators who explicitly advocated independence for Hong Kong. That court decision later led to the disqualification of four more pro-democracy legislators. In January, the Hong Kong Electoral Affairs Commission disqualified a Demosisto Party candidate, Agnes Chow, stating that her promotion of “self-determination” for Hong Kong is “inconsistent” with the Basic Law.
The mainland and Hong Kong governments have harassed people for peaceful pro-independence speech. In March, they denounced a pro-democracy scholar, Benny Tai, equating his hypothetical discussion of Hong Kong independence with “a threat to national security.”
Hong Kong National Party officials have not yet announced whether they will appeal.
“To ban a group of people exercising their basic rights sadly parallels what has long happened in the mainland,” Richardson said. “Authorities have no business banning political parties simply because they disagree with their peaceful views.”