A group of prominent lawyers have called an election officer’s decision to disqualify Agnes Chow from running in the upcoming March legislative by-elections “unreasonable, unlawful and unconstitutional.”

The lawyers are from the Legal Subsector of the Election Committee – a group of legal professionals who were electors in the 2017 chief executive election. They include, among others, Senior Counsels Edward Chan, Philip Dykes, Alan Leong, Anthony Harris, Robert Pang and Hectar Pun.

On Saturday, election officers rejected Chow’s candidacy, saying she “cannot possibly comply” with electoral laws after advocating notions of self-determination. Chow is a member of Demosisto, which promotes the ideology, though they deny it is equal to advocating independence for the city.

Agnes Chow
Agnes Chow. File photo: In-Media.

In a statement published on Monday, the group expressed “deep regret and concern” over the decision to disqualify Chow.

“In disqualifying Ms Chow Ting by virtue of her participation in an organisation which holds certain political views found unacceptable by the Administration, the Decision has used political opinion or affiliation as a ground to deprive her of the right to stand for election – which is unreasonable, unlawful and unconstitutional,” they said.

The group said the right to stand for election is a fundamental right guaranteed under the Basic Law and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights. The United Nations Human Rights Committee’s General Comment 25 also states that “political opinion may not be used as a ground to deprive any person of the right to stand for election,” they said.

The legal figures said that the decision “breaches the fundamental rules of natural justice in that it was made without affording Ms Chow Ting any opportunity to make representations.”

They added that the decision “frustrates the core purpose of an open and fair election, which is to guarantee the free expression of the will of the electors.”

Agnes Chow
Agnes Chow. Photo: In-Media.

The group said the statement was not an endorsement of Chow’s political opinion. “We would have made the same points regardless of where a would-be candidate stands in the political spectrum,” they said.

In a statement on Sunday, a group of 17 professional organisations – including Progressive Lawyers’ Group, Frontline Tech Workers, Progressive Teachers’ Alliance and Medécins Inspirés – also demanded the withdrawal of the decision to disqualify Chow and announce the confirmation of the eligibility of other candidates who signed up to run in the election.

They urged the government “not to use the law as an excuse to block the right of young people or those with different views from running in elections.”

Chow is not the first Hongkonger to face disqualification. Since the 2016 legislative election, 12 other citizens have been banned from standing, or disqualified from the legislature after being democratically elected. A rally protesting Chow’s disqualification drew a crowd of 2,000 attendees on Sunday.

As of Monday afternoon, pro-democracy candidate Edward Yiu’s candidacy had not yet been confirmed.

The March by-elections are taking place to replace four lawmakers who were ousted by courts over their oath-taking. Six were disqualified by the courts in total, but two appeals lodged by Lau Siu-lai and “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung have yet to be completed. Judy Chan from New People’s Party and non-affiliated candidate Edward Yum have submitted nominations to run for the Hong Kong Island seat.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.