HONG KONG–Hong Kong authorities formally banned a group that’s promoting independence from China—the first outlawing of a political organization since Britain handed its former colony back to Chinese rule in 1997.
John Lee, the city’s secretary for security, announced the banning of the Hong Kong National Party in a brief statement published in the government’s gazette on Sept. 24, 10 days after the party submitted arguments against the move.
Lee ordered the ban under Hong Kong’s Societies Ordinance, a previously little-noticed colonial-era law that requires all social groups and organizations to register with the police. The law allows the government to ban groups “in the interests of national security, public order, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
Lee later told reporters that the two-year-old group was prepared to use “all methods” to forge independence, a stance that posed a threat to national security and broke the Basic Law, the mini-constitution that governs Hong Kong’s relations with China.
“It has a clear agenda in making Hong Kong a republic,” Lee said. He also said the group had spread “hatred and discrimination against mainland Chinese.”
Officials couldn’t rule out action against other groups, including those promoting “self determination,” as well as full independence, he said.
Hong Kong is governed under a “one country, two systems” principle that allows the global financial hub a high degree of autonomy and freedoms that aren’t enjoyed in China, including an independent legal system and freedoms of speech and assembly. But since the handover to Chinese sovereignty, the city has seen encroaching influence from Beijing.
The 28-year-old founder of the Hong Kong National Party, Andy Chan, has been widely quoted in local and international media in recent weeks. In August, he spoke at Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents Club, in a move condemned by the Chinese Foreign Ministry and locally based Chinese officials.
“I will never stop in my pursuit of freedom, human rights, equality, and dignity,” Chan told Reuters earlier.
He couldn’t be reached for comment on Sept. 24; some media reports said he was considering a legal appeal.
Local government efforts to find ways of cracking down on the independence movement follows a warning last year from Chinese leader Xi Jinping during a visit to the city that any attempt to endanger China’s sovereignty crossed a “red line.” China’s central government backed the Sept. 24 ban.
China’s perceived tightening grip over the city has stoked tensions in recent years, including the “Occupy Central” movement in 2014 that blocked major roads for nearly three months in a failed bid to pressure Beijing to allow full democracy.
By Greg Torode & Clare Jim