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Hong Kong Pro-Independence Party Faces Ban In Controversial Application of Societies Ordinance

A Hong Kong pro-independence party may be outlawed if it fails to meet a government request to explain within 21 days why it should not be banned. 

The Hong Kong National Party (香港民族黨, HKNP) was founded on March 28, 2016, by Andy Chan Ho-tin (陳浩天), who was then a 26-year-old engineering and business administration student at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (HKPU). Although the Party did not have more than 50 members, its formation angered the central government in Beijing. 

A spokesperson for the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council told state-run Xinhua that the newly established pro-independence party harmed "national sovereignty and security, as well as Hong Kong's prosperity and stability," and that it violated the Constitution, the Basic Law and relevant regulations.   

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On July 17 Chan disclosed that two police inspectors went to his home early that morning and handed him a thick pile of documents that included a record of his public speeches as well as past party activities. One of the documents stated that the HKNP violated the Societies Ordinance and it requested that all party operations be terminated.    

Chan told Hong Kong-based newspaper Apple Daily that the Secretary of Security had been advised by the Hong Kong police to ban the HKNP over national security and public order concerns in accordance with the Societies Ordinance, Paragraph 8. The Secretary of Security thereupon requested Andy Chan to provide a written response within 21 days explaining why the party should not be banned.    

Paragraph 8 of the Societies Ordinance ('Prohibition of operation of societies') states that the Secretary for Security may prohibit "the operation or continued operation" of a society and its branches if he "reasonably believes" that such ban is "necessary in the interests of national security or public safety, public order or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others," or if the society "is a political body that has a connection with a foreign political organization or a political organization of Taiwan." 


The Societies Ordinance dates back to the British colonial era. It first appeared in 1887 as the Triad and Secret Societies Ordinance. In 1911 it was renamed Societies Ordinance and its scope was extended to all societies (Hualing Fu, Carole J. Petersen, Simon N.M. Young, National Security and Fundamental Freedoms, p. 305). The Ordinance was amended in 1920. This version did not require societies to register with the government, though some did so voluntarily.  

During the Chinese Civil War, relations between Hong Kong and mainland China became increasingly strained and complex. The political activities of the Communist Party and the Guomindang in Hong Kong threatened the stability of the colony. In order to implement its policy of non-interference into Chinese politics and to control Chinese organizations in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong government passed a new Societies Ordinance in 1949 (Steve Tsang, ed., Government and Politics: A Documentary History of Hong Kong, 1995, p. 281). 

The new Societies Ordinance required all societies to register with the government, and it empowered the Registrar of Societies to refuse registration of any local society that was affiliated or connected with any political organization established outside Hong Kong. 

The Societies Ordinance was subsequently amended several times. The most important ones were made after the transfer of sovereignty from the UK to the People's Republic of China (PRC). In 1997 and in 2008 the wording of the Ordinance was changed to include "national security" and affiliation to a political organization in Taiwan as reasons to ban societies. 


On the basis of the Societies Ordinance the HKNP has been denied registration since its founding in 2016. 

Andy Chan became involved in politics during the pro-democracy Umbrella Revolution of 2014. On July 2016 he was barred from running for a parliamentary seat after he refused to sign a declaration stating that Hong Kong is an "inalienable" part of China, a measure introduced that same year by the Electoral Affairs Commission. 

In December 2016 Chan and one of his associates were assaulted at a restaurant in Taiwan, where they had gone to be interviewed by local media. The assailants were two members of the 'Patriotic Society', a Taiwan-based organization that supports Communist China. 

On July 16, Chan was followed by three men to his home, according to the Hong Kong newspaper Mingpao

At a press conference, Hong Kong Secretary of Security John Lee Ka-chiu (李家超) stated that this is the first time Paragraph 8 of the Societies Ordinance has been applied since the handover. He said that Andy Chan has time until August 7 to inform him why the HKNP should not be banned. In case the party is banned, party operatives and donors could be punished with a fine of HKD$50,000 and two years in jail.

Lee explained that any Hong Kong-based society may be banned in order to protect national security and public order, or to protect the rights and freedoms of others. Protecting national security means safeguarding the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the People's Republic of China, Lee said.

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