Activist Agnes Chow has said she will remain on as member of the pro-democracy Demosisto party, despite being barred from running for the Legislative Council because of her party’s advocacy of self-determination.

“I am a Demosisto member, and I believe I will still be a Demosisto member in the future,” she said, when asked if she will cut ties with the party in order to enter the March race.

demosisto Agnes Chow press conference
Agnes Chow. Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

“The important thing is not whether I am a Demosisto member, but that Beijing has continued to find ways to disqualify people whom it does not favour – to purge us until we are doomed,” she said. “This is not rule of law, or rule by law – this is just rule by the Beijing government.”

On Saturday, election officers rejected Chow’s candidacy, saying she “cannot possibly comply” with electoral laws after promoting or advocating notions of self-determination: “‘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…,” a press release said.

See also: Interview: Pro-democracy by-election candidate Agnes Chow: who is she and why does she want your vote?

Chow hit out at the disqualification at a Saturday press conference: “This is not just Demosisto’s issue, it is about everyone after the Umbrella Movement who believes they should determine their own future, and every young person who has hope for society.”

Demosisto Chairman Nathan Law won a legislative seat in the 2016 election but was disqualified as a lawmaker after he added words to his oath of office.

Beijing has denounced the “self-determination” as equal to advocating for Hong Kong independence.

‘Everyone will be barred’

Demosisto co-founder Joshua Wong told reporters that his party cannot be certain that Beijing’s “red line” will not shift again in the next election. He said that anyone who opposed the potential legislation of the national security law – stated in Article 23 of the Basic Law – could be next to be banned.

“Everyone [pro-democracy lawmakers] sitting here will be barred. This is possible – you should ask the government when will they stop toying with Hong Kong people,” he said.

demosisto Agnes Chow press conference
Agnes Chow. Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Eddie Chu, who also supports the notion of self-determination, said his personal political future is “trivial compared to the future of Hong Kong,” when asked if he believed he would be able to join future elections.

In 2016, activist Edward Leung, who then supported Hong Kong independence, gave up supporting the idea when election officers asked him about his political views, in order to run. But he was still barred from entering the race.

However, Demosisto said election officers never asked about Chow’s political views. They called the decision “illegal and groundless.”

Fellow election hopeful Edward Yiu said he believed that the government would announce whether he will also be banned from the election on Monday. Yiu, like Nathan Law, was democratically elected to the legislature in 2016, but ousted by a court after the government took action over words he added to his oath.

demosisto press conference
Edward Yiu. Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

Another disqualified lawmaker – “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung – said the public should consider not paying tax: “No taxation without representation.”

“I know I may get into trouble by saying this,” he said. “But we should have the moral courage to do this.”

Southern District Councillor Au Nok-hin, former convener of the annual July 1 pro-democracy march organiser Civil Human Rights Front, is set to replace Chow as the democrats’ nominee. He has submitted his nomination form.

Asked if Au will be disqualified as well, the activists said reporters should ask the government.

In an interview with HKFP on Thursday, Chow explained the party’s stance: “Demosisto advocates self-determination, which is about civil liberties, universal suffrage, and the ability to make life choices and not follow rules made by big businesses working in cahoots with the government. It’s completely different from advocating independence.” When the party was launched in 2016, it proposed a public referendum on Hong Kong’s future, which would include an option for independence from China.

The pro-democracy camp have urged the public to join a rally outside government headquarters at 5pm on Sunday.

Eligibility to run

In a statement, Demosisto said that returning officers – civil servants who oversee elections – did not initially enquire about Chow’s nationality when she submitted her candidacy application on January 18. Chow received confirmation from the UK’s Home Office on December 29 last year that she had given up her British nationality.

Only on January 24 did she receive an email from the Registration and Electoral Office (REO) asking her to prove she had relinquished her British nationality. The following day, she sent a copy of her nationality relinquishment form to the REO and her team showed the actual document to staff.

Demosisto added that Chow called the office over 30 times that day, asking for a clarification as to whether she could run. A member of staff said that “the returning officer is having a meeting and is busy.” When asked whether giving up her British nationality meant she could run, the staffer replied “you can say that.”

uk britain consulate
The British consulate, Hong Kong. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Demosisto said that, on January 26, the British Consulate also offered to speak with the Registration and Electoral Office so as to confirm that Chow had relinquished her British nationality.

“The office should stop creating problems over the nationality issue,” said Demosisto. “This is just a tactic to hide political selection and censorship.”

Wong said: “If Agnes Chow is disqualified over the nationality issue, maybe it should be [UK leader] Theresa May who should issue a statement.”

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.