Multiple Hong Kong pro-democracy candidates have been barred from standing in upcoming legislative elections, amid reports the government may postpone the polls until next year over the coronavirus.
Twelve pro-democracy candidates were formally disqualified Thursday, including prominent Hong Kong activist and former leader of the 2014 Umbrella Movement Joshua Wong. Others affected include a number of candidates from more traditional pro-democracy parties, as well as several young activists who cut their political teeth in last year’s pro-democracy protest movement.
On Twitter, Wong accused the Chinese government of showing a “total disregard for the will of (Hong Kongers)” and trampling on “the city’s last pillar of vanishing autonomy.”
In a statement, the Hong Kong government said it supported the decisions by returning officers to “invalidate 12 nominees for this year’s Legislative Council (LegCo) General Election.”
It said the candidates had been barred on the grounds that they would not uphold the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s de facto constitution, recently expanded with a new security law imposed on the city by Beijing, which criminalizes secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces.
“Returning Officers are still reviewing the validity of other nominations according to the laws,” government added. “We do not rule out the possibility that more nominations would be invalidated.”
Election in doubt
Several letters posted online by disqualified candidates from returning officers informing them of their decision cited previous opposition to the security law as a reason for the move.
“The excuse they use is that I describe (the security law) as a draconian law, which shows that I do not support this sweeping law,” Wong said.
Another disqualified candidate, Dennis Kwok, was reportedly barred because of his having expressed an intention to use his position as a legislator “in such a way as to force the Government to accede to certain demands,” effectively the job of an opposition lawmaker in most democratic countries.
The disqualifications come amid widespread reports that the government is preparing to postpone the elections, due to take place on September 6, to next year, due to an ongoing rise in coronavirus cases in the city.
It is not clear how the disqualifications will affect this, or whether there will be another round of nominations next year if the polls are postponed.
In the statement, the Hong Kong government said it “respects and safeguards the lawful rights of Hong Kong people, including the right to vote and the right to stand for elections.”
The move to ban candidates from September’s election comes a day after Hong Kong police arrested several student activists for allegedly committing the new crime of secession under the security law.
Police said those arrested were three males and one female, aged between 16 and 21.
Though the police declined to name the group or those arrested, the political group Studentlocalism said on Facebook that its members were among those apprehended, naming one as former leader Tony Chung.
Studentlocalism was one of several political groups in Hong Kong which announced it was ending operations in the city due to the new security law, though it did not delete its social media pages and said activists overseas would continue their work.
In a press conference late Wednesday, police spokesman Lee Kwai-wah said the organization had “posted about the establishment of a new party that advocates Hong Kong independence on social media.”
“We have to enforce the laws even if the crimes are committed on the internet. Don’t think you can escape from the responsibility in cyberspace and commit crimes,” Lee added.