Authorities in Hong Kong have taken an unprecedented step against separatist voices by banning a pro-independence political party on national security grounds.
John Lee, the territory’s Secretary for Security, announced the Hong Kong National Party would be prohibited from operation from today.
It is the first outlawing of a political organisation since Britain handed its former colony back to Chinese rule in 1997.
The ban is likely to raise further questions about Beijing’s growing influence in the territory, which was promised semi-autonomy as part of the handover.
Mr Lee ordered the ban under Hong Kong’s Societies Ordinance, a previously little-noticed, colonial-era law that requires all social groups and organisations to register with the police.
The law allows the Government to ban groups, “in the interests of national security, public order or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”.
Mr Lee told reporters the two-year-old party was prepared to use “all methods” to forge independence, which posed a threat to national security.
He also said the party broke the Basic Law, a mini-constitution that governs Hong Kong’s relations with China.
The Hong Kong National Party showed little sign of generating widespread public support until the Chinese Government’s decision to announce it was considering banning the party in July.
The move propelled its leader, Andy Chan, to prominence.
Hong Kong is governed under a “one country, two systems” principle which allows the global financial hub a high degree of autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed in China, including an independent legal system and freedoms of speech and assembly.