Britain ‘concerned’ over move to ban HK party

Hong Kong: Britain expressed concern on Wednesday after police in Hong Kong sought to ban a political party which promotes independence for the city. The bid to bar the Hong Kong National Party (HKNP), a well-known but small group with a core membership of around a dozen, has been made because it is a potential threat to national security and public safety, according to authorities.
It is the first time such a ban has been sought since Britain handed sovereignty of Hong Kong back to China in 1997 and is the latest move to stifle any calls for independence, which have infuriated Beijing.
“We note with concern… plans to prohibit the continued operation of the Hong Kong National Party,” the British foreign office said in a statement.
“The UK does not support Hong Kong independence, but Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, and its rights and freedoms, are central to its way of life, and it is important they are fully respected,” the statement added.
The right to stand for election, freedom of speech and freedom of association are enshrined in the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, as well as its bill of rights, the statement said.
Semi-autonomous Hong Kong enjoys freedoms unseen on the mainland which are protected by the 50-year handover agreement signed by Britain and China.
Britain has voiced concern before over Hong Kong’s freedoms, including after the disappearance of five city booksellers who resurfaced in custody in the mainland.
Hong Kong’s Secretary for Security John Lee said on Tuesday he was considering the request made by police to ban the HKNP.
Questioned how the party was damaging national security, Lee said he could not comment on the details.
However, he added that under Hong Kong law, national security meant safeguarding the “territorial integrity and the independence of the People’s Republic of China”.
Pro-democracy lawmakers and activists protested the potential ban outside the city’s police headquarters on Wednesday.
“If you dare to protest your explicit ideas, you are a criminal in the eyes of (city leader) Carrie Lam,” said legislator Claudia Mo.
Leader of HKNP Andy Chan said on Wednesday he would stand by his political beliefs. “Up until today I have not changed my stance for Hong Kong independence,” Chan told Hong Kong’s RTHK radio.
International rights groups have also hit back at the move to ban HKNP. Amnesty International described it as a “chilling day for freedom of association and freedom of expression in Hong Kong”. — AFP