Pro-democracy Demosisto party member Agnes Chow speaks to passing pedestrians in Hong Kong on June 4, 2017.

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By-elections will take place in Hong Kong in March

They are to fill the seats of several lawmakers controversially disqualified last year

Hong Kong CNN  — 

Hong Kong has barred a member of pro-democracy icon Joshua Wong’s political party from standing in an upcoming by-election.

Agnes Chow, a 21-year-old former student activist, was informed of the decision by the Hong Kong Island returning office Saturday, Demosisto said in a statement.

The party said she was barred due to its position that Hong Kongers be allowed to decide their own future, including voting on a potential break from China. Chow had previously signed a declaration that all prospective candidates must endorse, acknowledging China’s sovereignty over the city and disavowing Hong Kong independence.

Critics said the move undermined Hong Kong’s already narrow electoral rights and was another example of Beijing’s growing grip on the city, a former British colony that was handed over to China in 1997.

Chow had hoped to fill the seat of her party-mate Nathan Law, who was one of six lawmakers disqualified last year after the government argued a minor protest he staged during his official oath-taking meant it was not done “sincerely” in accordance with the law.

Beijing’s lawfare against dissent

Joshua Wong has become one of Hong Kong's best known pro-democracy activists.
The global fight for Hong Kong democracy
01:48 - Source: CNN

In a statement Saturday, the government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) said the “constitutional and legal status of the HKSAR is very clear … (it) is an inalienable part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).”

“‘Self-determination’ or changing the HKSAR system by referendum which includes the choice of independence is inconsistent with the constitutional and legal status of the HKSAR as stipulated in the Basic Law, as well as the established basic policies of the PRC regarding Hong Kong,” the statement said, referring to Hong Kong’s constitutional document.

“If a person advocates or promotes self-determination or independence by any means, he or she cannot possibly uphold the Basic Law or fulfill his or her duties as a legislator.”

Maya Wang, senior researcher on China, Human Rights Watch, said stopping anyone from running in elections purely because of their peaceful political stance was “a violation of their basic human rights to stand for elections, which is guaranteed under Hong Kong’s functional constitution, the Basic Law.”

“Three years after the Umbrella Movement, in which tens of thousands of people in Hong Kong stood up for the right to universal suffrage, the Beijing and Hong Kong governments have redoubled efforts to undermine the already limited electoral rights people have in Hong Kong.”

“The contorted legal arguments advanced by the Hong Kong government in disqualifying Chow can barely hide the political intentions of its decision: that this is another act in Beijing’s play to chip away Hong Kong’s autonomy,” she added.

Chow is not the first to be barred from standing for office in Hong Kong. In parliamentary elections in September 2016, several pro-independence candidates were banned, including Edward Leung, who is currently on trial for charges relating to a violent protest in Mong Kok, a major shopping district, in February 2016.

This week, Leung pleaded guilty to assaulting a police officer in that protest, but denied a string of other charges.