Britain 'concerned' after Hong Kong bans pro-independence party




 

The UK government has demanded China respect the autonomy of Hong Kong after Beijing banned a political party in the city that supports independence from China.

"We are concerned by the decision" of the government, the 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 ban was instituted on Monday on the grounds that the Hong Kong National Party (HKNP) was found a threat to national security as Beijing continues to stamp out challenges to its sovereignty.

It is the first such ban on a political party since the former British colony was handed back to China by the UK in 1997. Police requested the ban in July under the Societies Ordinance, which allows groups to be prohibited in the interests of national security and public safety.

Under the move, it is now illegal to be a party member, raise money for the group and to participate or act on behalf of the organization. Anyone in violation could face up to three years in prison and thousands in fines, according to a government notice posted online.

Pro-democracy demonstrations in the special administrative region in 2014 largely failed to usher in political reforms. Since then, activists have continued speaking out. However, pro-independence supporters have been barred from running for office, including Andy Chan, a founding member of HKNP. Others have been disqualified from the legislative council.

The ban came one day after a controversial high-speed rail link opened connecting Beijing to Hong Kong, a move that also stoked concerns about the growing reach of China into the city diminishing its autonomy.

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