Pro-democracy lawmakers have demanded that Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng explain the legal grounds on which the government could bar pro-democracy activists Edward Yiu and Agnes Chow from running in the upcoming Legislative Council by-election.

Cheng refused to meet pro-democracy lawmakers on Thursday night after they waited outside her office for two hours. It came after the government’s chief electoral officer confirmed legal advice was sought from the justice chief over the eligibility of candidates.

Cheng then sent word that lawmakers should contact her social secretary – who then said Cheng will not be free this weekend, and they should ask for a meeting with Solicitor General Wesley Wong.

Pro-democracy lawmakers outside Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng’s office. Photo: Handout.

“She pushed the responsibility to a civil servant – this is not the attitude that a politically appointed minister should have,” legal sector lawmaker Dennis Kwok said.

But Wong also said he was busy and lawmakers – who have legislative sessions on Friday – would have to come to his office to meet him.

On Wednesday, Cheng said she would be free at the end of this week. But she will only come to a special session of the Panel on Administration of Justice and Legal Services on Monday afternoon, after previously refusing to attend the panel until the end of next month.

Photo: In-Media.

Lawmaker Claudia Mo said: “We are not here to socialise with you – this is a matter of important public interest.”

Mo said if Yiu and Chow were barred from running, the same “weapon of mass destruction in the name of the law” could apply to any candidates that the government did not favour.

“They can find all kinds of laws to say you are not eligible to run,” she said.

Lawmaker Fernando Cheung criticised the government as avoiding responsibility by releasing information to media through unnamed sources: “What is this government? A government ruled by sources?”

Reports from the pro-Beijing Sing Tao Daily have cited unnamed sources as suggesting legal grounds to disqualify them, citing the Basic Law interpretation issued by Beijing in 2016. The interpretation said the legal requirements and preconditions for standing for election included upholding the Basic Law and pledging allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

News site HK01 suggested Yiu may be disqualified using Legislative Council Ordinance 39(1)(f), because he has been disqualified as a lawmaker previously.

Teresa Cheng. Photo: Citizen News.

Yiu was elected a legislator through the architectural sector constituency in 2016, but was disqualified in July last year over his legislative swearing-in session. He added phrases such as “for democracy and for Hong Kong’s sustainable development” to his oath.

Chow, meanwhile, is of the Demosisto party, which supports the notion of self-determination. Beijing denounced the idea as equal to advocating for Hong Kong independence – a suggestion rejected by Chow and the party. Demosisto’s chairman – former lawmaker Nathan Law – was also disqualified last year over his oath of office.

Agnes Chow and Edward Yiu. Photo: In-Media.

In the 2016 legislative election, election officers barred five contenders from running because they did not accept that they would “uphold the Basic Law” – a proviso for entering the race. Candidates were also asked to sign pledges in which they promised to uphold the mini-constitution and pledge allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

The pro-democracy camp has started a petition letter generator for the public to send theirs before Monday, the deadline of the by-election nomination period.

Kris Cheng

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.