Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Hong Kong National Party Getting Undue Attention

The government threatening to shut down the pro-independence party
The Hong Kong police are now helping the government crack down on separatists and it's sending chills to people wondering what freedom of speech we have left.

The authorities invoked a law known as the Societies Ordinance against a political party for the first time in the city's history. It was enacted when Hong Kong was a British colony, and was later amended in 1992 to align with other legislation to protect human rights.

John Lee says the party has 21 days to explain its existence
Yesterday Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu gave notice to the Hong Kong National Party, known for its separatist stance, to explain in 21 days why he should not ban them. The police delivered to the party's co-founder, Andy Chan Ho-tin, 27, a stack of 700 pages of documents that are transcripts of speeches he had made, and events he had attended.

It's simultaneously impressive and scary how much information the police have collected on Chan and his party.

Lee tried to soften the blow by adding that if the party was banned, it could still appeal to Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who would make the final decision in consultation with her cabinet, the Executive Council.

But we probably know what her decision would be.

"I am not discussing the Hong Kong National Party's case, but... the nation has clearly stated that any act to destroy the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity, or to separate the country, [crosses] an untouchable red line," Lee said, citing remarks made by Chinese President Xi Jinping in Hong Kong last year.

The security minister added Hong Kong had freedom of association, "but that right is not without restrictions".

Andy Chan held a one-man press conference in 2016
"According to the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance, restrictions can be made by law if it is necessary in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health and morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others," Lee said.

It is inferred that the Hong Kong National Party's independence stance is going against the interests of national security, hence it should be shut down -- even though it isn't even registered as a party with the government.

In March 2016, Chan launched the party, whose goal was to establish a "Republic of Hong Kong", and it would use "whatever effective means" to push for independence from China, including fielding candidates in the Legislative Council elections.

"Regarding the use of violence, we would support it if it was effective in making us heard," Chan said in a press conference he held by himself.

His boldness caught the attention of the authorities, who at the time were already looking for ways to silence localists -- and now this group of separatists.

As a result, Chan was banned from running in the 2016 polls because of his party's pro-independence stance.

People still remember the 2003 protest against Article 23
Apparently shutting him out of the political area wasn't enough for the Hong Kong government, that has now decided -- two years later -- to shut the fledgling party down. The authorities seem keen on flexing its muscles to show Beijing it's getting serious about national security, but at the expense of freedom of speech and association.

Senior Chinese leadership are becoming more impatient about Hong Kong still not enacting Article 23 of the Basic Law, which would criminalize acts of treason, secession, sedition or subversion against the central government.

The Hong Kong government had tried to introduce this legislation back in 2003, but some 500,000 people took to the streets in protest, and as a result successive governments have shelved the issue.

However, earlier this month, Lam said her administration would create favourable conditions for the legislation and lead a rational public debate on the issue, but didn't commit to a time frame.

Nevertheless, critics are sounding the alarm bells. Patrick Poon Kar-wai, Amnesty International's China researcher, said the move to ban the separatist party "would have a chilling effect". "The attempt to ban the Hong Kong National Party raises alarm bells as to what the government will look to curtail next in the name of national security," he said.

If the ban is enforced, aside from party members, anyone from the public who conducts activities under the party banner and helps with its operation, fundraising or assembly can also be prosecuted and face a maximum of one year in jail.

University of Hong Kong criminal law scholar Simon Young Ngai-man said the ban would have "knock-on" effects, such as allowing the police to conduct searches in places related to the party without a warrant.

It seems like the government is playing Goliath with Chan's David here. His party isn't even a legal political party and yet the authorities are doing everything it can to try to ban it.

Is it an overreaction? Considering not much as been heard from this party for a long time, the government's interest in it has put it back in the news and shining the spotlight on it again.

It would have been better to have let it die a slow death because most of the public didn't care for it. But now that there are fears freedom of speech are being curtailed, everyone is worried.

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