Multiple civic groups and student unions expressed strong concerns over the government’s proposed ban on the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party (HKNP), saying the planned clampdown amounts to curbing free speech and other constitutional rights.

A demonstration has been called for Saturday to voice the feelings of various groups that are opposed to the administration’s plans, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

On Thursday, Progressive Lawyers Group, a group of Hong Kong lawyers dedicated to promoting rule of law, democracy, human rights, freedom and justice, said any move to limit or derogate freedom of association would not be justified unless authorities can prove that the targeted entity has been engaged in any use or threat of force that jeopardizes the territorial integrity of China.

Also on the same day, several political and civic groups, including the League of Social Democrats, People Power, and Christian Social Concern Fellowship, said in a joint statement that the government’s use of the illusory concept of “national security” to clamp down on the HKNP marks a violation of the basic rights of Andy Chan Ho-tin, HKNP’s co-founder and convenor.

The fact that the HKNP is not an officially registered society but subject to regulation by the Societies Ordinance as authorities claimed it should be, shows the government has de facto implemented Article 23 of the Basic Law, which requires Hong Kong to implement laws against treason, secession, sedition and subversion, the statement said.

Meanwhile, student unions of nine tertiary institutions also slammed the planned action against the HKNP, terming the clampdown as suppression of Hongkongers’ political rights and freedom of association.

The unions accused the government of taking the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance out of context, and also said authorities were ignoring the premises of a democratic society.

The students called on the public not to stay silent because doing so will only prompt the “communist” government in Hong Kong to go further with its prohibition on continued operations of other political parties that advocate self-determination or democracy.

Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu told the media on Tuesday that he is giving the HKNP, which has been accused of advocating separatism, 21 days to submit a written defense as to why the government should not order the ban.

The announcement came after an assistant societies officer, who is said to be Rebecca Lam Hiu-tong, who holds an assistant commissioner post in the police, strongly recommended prohibiting the operation of the HKNP, a localist party that was formed in 2016 with an objective to push for Hong Kong independence, as a precaution.

The officer claimed the party’s words and deeds mark violation of the Basic Law, the city’s mini constitution, and that the organization poses a potential danger to national security and territorial integrity.

HKNP’s Chan told HKEJ that the so-called evidence presented by the police can only prove what he had said but they clearly want to incriminate him with it.

He said he will meet with his lawyer on Friday to discuss the next step. In the meantime, he has decided not to participate in the Saturday’s demonstration launched by the Civil Human Rights Front, which organizes Hong Kong’s annual July 1 pro-democracy march.

Despite the backlash, Maria Tam Wai-chu, vice-chair of the Hong Kong Basic Law Committee under the NPCSC, suggested that she considers the police’s evidence sufficient.

She told reporters that she doesn’t believe the HKNP was not preparing to take actual actions. Were it otherwise, there was no need for the party to aggressively push its advocacy campaigns, Tam argued.

Senior counsel and Executive Council member Ronny Tong Ka-wah defended the government’s move by stressing that the Societies Ordinance only targets a group rather than an individual, with an intent to prevent the former, before its legalization, from doing things that jeopardize the society as a whole.

Calling Tong’s remarks ignorant, Eric Cheung Tat-ming, a principal lecturer at the Department of Law of the University of Hong Kong, said no one can say for sure what the HKNP will become five years from now, hence preventive action is uncalled for.

Chueng compared the Security Bureau’s move against the party to what one would expect from totalitarian states such as mainland China.

Civic Party chief Alan Leong Kah-kit, who had once chaired the Bar Association, pointed out that people should not be incriminated before they put their thoughts into action.

He criticized the proposed HKNP ban, describing the government’s move as using a nuclear bomb to strike a fly.

Article originally appear in EJ Insight on 20th July 2018