Hong Kong: Proposed ban on pro-independence political party a dangerous blow for freedoms of association and expression

This is a chilling day for freedom of association and freedom expression in Hong Kong, with potentially far-reaching consequences.
Patrick Poon, China researcher at Amnesty International.

Responding to news that the Hong Kong authorities have initiated a procedure to ban the Hong Kong National Party, which advocates for Hong Kong independence from China, Patrick Poon, China Researcher at Amnesty International commented:

“This is a chilling day for freedom of association and freedom of expression in Hong Kong, with potentially far-reaching consequences. To use sweeping references to ‘national security’ to silence dissenting voices is a tactic favoured by repressive governments.

“The authorities must stop using vague laws to intimidate people who hold different political views. 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.

“Under international law and standards, any prohibition of an organization is subject to a strict test of justification, with the burden of proof on the government to demonstrate that a real, not just hypothetical, danger to national security exists.”

Background

The Hong Kong authorities have written to notify the Hong Kong National Party, a local organization advocating for Hong Kong independence, of its plan to ban it. Among the reasons for the proposed ban are speeches made and rallies attended by the party’s leader, Andy Chan Ho-tin, in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

The proposed ban is based on the Societies Ordinance, which stipulates that the government can prohibit the operation of any organization “for the interests of national security or public safety, public order or the protection of the rights and freedom of others”, or if the organization is a political body that has a connection with a foreign political organization or a political organization of Taiwan. Any operations, member recruitment and fundraising activities of a banned organization could result in up to three years’ imprisonment.

The Societies Ordinance has been criticized by human rights groups for the potential impact on freedom of expression and association. In 1999, a United Nations human rights body called on the Hong Kong government to review the Societies Ordinance, noting that it could be applied in a way to unduly restrict the right to freedom of association.