Article was originally published in Hong Kong Free Press on 25 January 2017
The Progressive Lawyers Group has criticised the government for barring two political groups from selling merchandise at the city’s largest Lunar New Year fair.
“Any administrative bureau, in the exercise of its public power and decision making, must uphold the principles of fairness and justice,” it said in a statement on Tuesday.
The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department came under fire last week after it notified Youngspiration and Hong Kong National Party of its decision to terminate their franchise agreements for operating stalls at the fair in Victoria Park, Causeway Bay. The notices came less than a week before the festive market began last Sunday.
“We believe the merchandise you will be selling is related to the pro-independence messages that Youngspiration/Hong Kong National Party propagates,” the department wrote. It said the sale of these products would “very likely endanger public order and safety” given society’s polarised views on Hong Kong independence.
Youngspiration said the department told them that the decision was made “based on guesswork” that the group would be propagating pro-independence messages at the fair.
On Monday, the group posted pictures of their merchandise on social media to show that their goods did not contain political messages as the government had speculated. The pictures show satirical merchandise poking fun of social phenomena in Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, the Hong Kong National Party set up an online store to distribute merchandise with pro-independence messages, such as T-shirts with the text “I advocate Hong Kong independence” printed on them.
The party urged supporters to carry these products in public places and “especially at the Lunar New Year fairs.”
The Progressive Lawyers Group said the government’s decision “will be questioned by the public and be regarded as political oppression” if it does not have solid evidence to prove that the merchandise will likely endanger public order and safety.
Calling the decision “unwise,” the lawyers group said the government should protect the freedom of speech, publication and association in accordance with Article 27 of the Basic Law, as well as safeguard the free movement of goods as per Article 115.
The government should have first consulted the political groups for a resolution and allowed them to defend their case before reaching a decision, it added.
“It is difficult to convince the public that any stall or activity would endanger the public order or safety solely based on the attendance or activities of some dissidents. It is a terrible precedent if the Department terminates the Franchise Agreement for any particular political views of any party or organisation,” it said.
A total of 15 Lunar New Year fairs – including the one in Victoria Park – are held across Hong Kong between January 22 and 28.