The Secretary for Justice has defended a decision to bar Localist Edward Leung Tin-kei from running in upcoming elections, saying there is a legal basis for it.

Leung was only allowed to run in a February by-election because he “had not clearly discussed the Hong Kong independence issue” back then, Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung claimed, following the controversial decision to bar Leung from the upcoming Legislative Council elections.

Leung, who received more than 66,000 votes in the LegCo by-election, was barred from running on Tuesday even after declaring that he did not support Hong Kong independence anymore. The returning officer did not accept that he had genuinely changed his stance, citing media reports, his old Facebook page and public statements as evidence.

“The returning officer, as I understand, has clearly explained her rationale in the document sent to Mr. Edward Leung – we think the rationale of the returning officer has a legal basis,” Yuen told reporters on Wednesday.

Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung Edward Leung Tin-kei
Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung and Edward Leung Tin-kei. /Socrec.

“You can compare what Mr. Edward Leung advocated during the by-election to incidents related to this [decision],” Yuen said. “If you have noticed, Mr. Edward Leung had not clearly discussed the Hong Kong independence issue [before the by-election] – this is what we knew of the situation at the time.”

However, Leung said on a RTHK radio programme on December 29 last year: “what localists want is for Hong Kong to resume its autonomy – Hong Kong independence is one of the ways to implement autonomy.”

He repeatedly stated that he would rule out the option of Hong Kong independence in January and February, after he submitted his nomination form and was confirmed as a candidate.

Leung’s election mailouts for the by-election did not mention Hong Kong independence – but included terms like “valiant resistance”, “autonomy”, “self-determination” and “self-independence.”

His mailouts were still rejected by authorities, who said they were not compliant with conditions laid down in the guidelines of the Electoral Affairs Commission.

Eternal ban

On a RTHK radio programme on Wednesday, Leung said he felt helpless after the returning officer’s decision.

“When will she eventually believe that I will truly uphold the Basic Law?” he said, questioning whether it would take four years or even eight years. “Do I have to sign a ‘letter of repentance’ and pledge I won’t call for independence in front of six cameras and the whole universe?”

“I have been stripped of my political rights for my entire life,” he added.

However, Eric Cheung Tat-ming, principal lecturer at the University of Hong Kong’s law school, said the government’s decision lacked legal grounds. He said on the programme that he was concerned about whether the government would invite the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress to interpret the Basic Law in order to provide legal grounds for the invalidation.

“The law has never given the returning officers the power to make a political decision and give subjective judgement,” he said.

Alan Lo Ying-ki Chan Ho-tin
Alan Lo Ying-ki (left) and Chan Ho-tin (right). Photo: GovHK/Apple Daily.

Threats towards returning officers

Meanwhile, a man was arrested Wednesday morning on suspicion of accessing a computer with dishonest intent, after he allegedly made threatening speeches towards a returning officer.

The government previously condemned “malicious personal attacks,” “intimidating remarks” and threats made online against a returning officer who banned a pro-independence candidate from running in the upcoming Legislative Council election.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.