More than 60 groups signed a petition criticizing the government’s abuse of freedom of association by proposing to ban the Hong Kong National Party.

Assistant Societies Officer Rebecca Lam Hiu-tung, who is also assistant police commissioner, had recommended that Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu prohibit the pro-independence party from continuing to operate.

The dossier the police gave National Party convener Andy Chan Ho-tin earlier accused the party of advocating for independence, as well as inciting hatred and discrimination against mainlanders.

The document also stated the party supported the “use of force” to achieve its goal of independence, but even though Chan had renounced the use of violence, police remain skeptical since he voiced his support for the convicted defendants of the Mong Kok riot at an assembly on May 28. The some 60 groups have condemned the Security Bureau for arbitrarily violating freedom of association, and issued a joint statement yesterday.

They criticized the bureau for using national security to justify their means to ban the party, which the groups branded as vague and abstruse. The groups added that the proposal violates Chan’s basic constitutional rights.

Roy Tam Hoi-pong, a district councilor from the Neo Democrats, said most of the evidence the police listed relates to Chan’s words and behavior. As a result, he questioned whether the police have been monitoring Chan for a lengthy period.

Tam Tak-chi, vice chairman of People Power, said even if the National Party is banned, Chan still has the right to speak as an individual. “The main point is speaking, as speaking about independence is not punishable,” Tam said.

Executive Councilor Ronny Tong Ka-wah disagreed with the groups, and took to his Facebook page to reveal the Societies Ordinance aims to stop organizations from harming society.

He also insisted the motive behind the proposed party ban has nothing to do with freedom of speech.

“It’s common sense that it would be too late to ban them after they succeeded in their work,” Tong said.

“Thus the ordinance targets what the group will do instead of what the individual has done.”

But Chris Ng Chung-luen, convener of the Progressive Lawyers Group, said it would be especially difficult to prove that a group really intends to achieve their goals through violence.

“It cannot be proved merely with words that someone has said,” Ng said.

Article originally appear in The Standard on 20 July 2018