Hong Kong has banned a political party that advocates for independence from China, a further sign of the mainland's tightening grip on the semi-autonomous territory.
Secretary for Security John Lee announced Monday the Hong Kong National Party is prohibited from operating under an ordinance that cites the interest of national security and public safety. The official ban comes just two months after he informed party founder Andy Chan the government was taking steps to outlaw the group.
This is the first time the Hong Kong government has officially banned a political party since Britain returned sovereignty to Beijing in 1997.
A researcher with U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, Maya Wang, issued a statement Monday calling the ban on the HKNP "a milestone in the Beijing and Hong Kong governments' assault on Hong Kong's freedoms.''
Chan is one of many young activists who have openly criticized the mainland's tightening grip on the former British colony, which was granted a huge level of autonomy under the "one country, two systems" formula established when Beijing regained control of the territory. The activists are split between those seeking greater autonomy for Hong Kong, and those seeking full independence.
The pro-independence Hong Kong National Party was born out of the massive 2014 "Umbrella Revolution" street protests demanding fully free elections.
Chan warned last month that Hong Kong "is quickly being annexed and destroyed by China" in a speech before a group of foreign journalists. The group hosted Chan in defiance of Chinese demands to cancel the speech in Hong Kong.