The government has decided to bar two localist groups from selling merchandise at the city’s largest Lunar New Year fair for public safety reasons.
Youngspiration and the Hong Kong National Party received a letter from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively, saying that it had terminated their license agreements for operating stalls at the fair in Victoria Park, Causeway Bay. The notices came less than a week before the fair is scheduled to begin on 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 that the sale of the merchandise by the groups would “very likely endanger public order and public safety,” as the fair will be packed and there will be people supportive of, as well as opposed to, the pro-independence messages.
The department said the Hong Kong government reserves all its rights on this matter.
In a bilingual statement issued on Wednesday, the National Party slammed the “Communist-Colonial government of Hong Kong” for its “relentless oppression” of the group. It equated the latest clampdown on independence-leaning groups to “political persecution.”
“We see the disproportionate trembling of the lapdogs’ boots, in this most jovial of seasons, on a matter most insignificant of political import,” it said.
Warning the government that it reserved the right to take the government to court, the National Party said it would find another way of selling goods advocating Hong Kong independence, “unimpeded by the feeble attempts at censorship by the Communist-Colonial government of Hong Kong.”
“Let this Lunar New Year be a celebration of political freedom, and not of political cowardice.”
Youngspiration said the department told them that it was only implementing a decision made by the government and that the decision was made “based on guesswork.”
The group said it was going to let local designers sell their products at the stall, and is yet to finalise the list of merchandise. It criticised the government for cracking down on political groups without evidence.
It said it would continue fighting for its right to operate the stall and might find another means to distribute their products.
It is a tradition for political groups in Hong Kong to operate stalls at the Victoria Park’s fair. They are typically grouped in the same area at the fair even though their political ideologies may conflict with each other.
Political censorship at the fairs is rare. Pro-democracy parties have for years been selling satirical merchandise making fun of controversial government officials.
Last year, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China was allowed to sell political books that are banned in China. It also asked the public to donate to the June 4th Museum, an exhibition documenting Beijing’s violent crackdown on Tiananmen Square protesters on June 4, 1989. The topic remains a taboo in mainland China.
A total of 15 Lunar New Year fairs – including the one in Victoria Park – will be held across Hong Kong between January 22 and 28.