A group of 30 lawyers have expressed their deep regrets over the “political screening” of candidates in the upcoming Legislative Council elections, saying it goes against the Basic Law, the so-called mini-constitution of Hong Kong.
The lawyers were members of a 1,200-member committee that elects the Chief Executive. The statement came on Wednesday, shortly after justice secretary Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung defended the decision by a returning officer to bar localist Edward Leung Tin-kei from running. Leung was disqualified even though he was allowed to join a LegCo by-election in February and received more than 66,000 votes, around 15 per cent of the total.
Yuen said there was a legal basis for the decision, and that Leung “had not clearly discussed the Hong Kong independence issue” six months ago. But past media reports are proof that Leung did talk about the issue; Leung also confirmed that he did so on a radio programme on Wednesday.
Leung was banned from running on Tuesday, as returning officer Cora Ho Lai-sheung of the New Territories East constituency did not accept that he had genuinely changed his stance, even after he publicly stated that he did not support Hong Kong independence anymore. Ho rejected his candidacy on the grounds that Leung could not uphold the Basic Law, even after he signed a statement on the nomination form affirming he would do so.
Other than Leung, four candidates who supported independence or Hong Kong’s return to the UK were banned from running after signing the declaration, also because returning officers deemed them unable to genuinely uphold the Basic Law.
The 30 lawyers, in a joint statement issued Wednesday night, criticised the decision to ban the candidates, saying that they have a fundamental right to stand for election according to Article 26 of the Basic Law.
Candidates are only required to submit the declaration by law, the statement said. “It does not give the Returning Officer any power to inquire into the so called genuineness of the candidates’ declarations, let alone making a subjective and political decision to disqualify a candidate without following any due process on the purported ground that the candidate will not genuinely uphold the Basic Law.”
“Such an inquiry and decision are not only unlawful but amount to political censorship and screening by the Returning Officer without any legal basis.”
The 30 committee members, including two lawmakers, are all from the pan-democratic camp or have ties to the camp.
Meanwhile, 19 pro-democracy professional groups in different sectors published half-page ads on two major Chinese newspapers Apple Daily and Ming Pao on Thursday, which said “political screening is against the law.”
The pro-independence Hong Kong National Party, whose convener Chan Ho-tin was disqualified as a candidate, announced they will host a rally at Tamar Park in Admiralty on Friday between 8 and 10pm, saying that it has a “big announcement” to make.