The pro-democracy Demosisto party has confirmed that its legislative by-election candidate Agnes Chow has been banned from entering the race this March. It said the decision was “illegal and groundless.”

Update: Agnes Chow to remain in Demosisto party as Hong Kong gov’t effectively bars group from running for election

On Saturday morning, the government said that election officers rejected a candidate as 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 as stipulated in the Basic Law, as well as the established basic policies of the PRC regarding Hong Kong,” the government said.

Agnes Chow
Agnes Chow. Photo: Demosisto.

In a statement, the party said the decision made no reference to Chow’s speeches but pointed to their party manifesto: “This is equal to stripping the rights of all members of the group to run in elections, barring Demosisto from the legislature,” it said.

“This is the purge by the Chinese Communist Party against a whole generation.”

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

It added that the returning officer – a civil servant who oversees elections – had questioned Chow’s nationality in her bid to run, but did not ask questions about her party’s political stance. Chow gave up her British citizenship in order to be eligible to enter the race.

The party said that, during the 2016 election, candidates were asked about their political views: “This incident is equal to giving returning officers power to judge candidates’ political stance when confirming nominations, without giving a chance for them to explain.”

The party also said the election officer explained that they “considered developments after the 2016 Legislative Council election” and the Basic Law interpretation issued by Beijing. Nathan Law, the party’s chair, was stripped of his title as a lawmaker because of his oath of office.

Agnes Chow.
Photo: GovHK/Demosisto.

“The interpretation only regulated and limits the form and content of oath taking, and is unrelated to rights to participate in elections. We question what power the returning officer has to explain content of the interpretation,” the party said. “This is illegal and groundless.”

Self-determination row

Beijing has denounced the “self-determination” as equal to advocating for Hong Kong independence – a suggestion rejected by Chow and the party. In an interview with HKFP on Thursday, she said: “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.”

YouTube video

At the party’s launch in 2016, Demosisto co-founder Joshua Wong said they wished to hold a public vote on Hong Kong’s status: “Independence should be one of the options inside the self-determination referendum,” he said.

The party will hold a press conference at 1:30pm.

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.

Maya Wang of NGO Human Rights Watch said the government had violated human rights.

“To bar anyone from running in elections purely because of their peaceful political stance is a violation of their basic human rights to stand for elections, which is guaranteed under Hong Kong’s functional constitution, the Basic Law… The contorted legal arguments advanced by the Hong Kong government in disqualifying Chow can barely hide the political intentions of its decision: that this is another act in Beijing’s play to chip away Hong Kong’s autonomy.”

Agnes Chow
Agnes Chow and Joshua Wong. Photo: Demosisto.

The government added that it was not censoring candidates: “There is no question of any political censorship, restriction of the freedom of speech or deprivation of the right to stand for elections as alleged by some members of the community.”

Disqualification saga

The March by-elections are taking place to replace four lawmakers ousted by courts over their oaths. Six lawmakers were disqualified by the courts in total, but two appeals filed by Lau Siu-lai and “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung have yet to be completed.

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 promise to uphold the mini-constitution and pledge allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

Convener of the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party Chan Ho-tin filed an election petition against the electoral officer’s apparent power to disqualify candidates after his bid was rejected in 2016. The hearing was completed last May, but the High Court has still not delivered a verdict on the matter. Edward Leung, then-spokesperson of localist group Hong Kong Indigenous, and advocate of Hong Kong’s return to the United Kingdom Alice Lai both also filed election petitions after they were barred from running.

Demosisto will hold a protest at 5pm on Sunday at Civic Square, Admiralty.