The Hong Kong government has criticised former chief secretary and democracy advocate Anson Chan for accusing the government of prescreening election candidates on political grounds. Chan made the comments during an acceptance speech after winning the O’Connor Justice Prize on Saturday.

The award is named after Justice O’Connor – the first woman to serve on the US Supreme Court –  and recognises those who have “made extraordinary contributions to advancing rule of law, justice, and human rights.”

anson chan
Anson Chan accepting the prize.

In her acceptance speech, Chan said: “While the rule of law is still intact in terms of Hong Kong’s judicial system, and is being vigorously defended by the local legal profession, there is worrying evidence that, under pressure from Beijing, the SAR Government is increasingly ruling by law, to suppress dissent and intimidate pro-democracy protesters.”

“Worse still, is an increasing tendency to enact new laws in circumstances where existing laws do not appear to provide adequate scope for control of opinions or actions that the authorities do not like,” she added.

Chan made reference to the candidate declaration form introduced in 2016 legislative election, and how the authority was delegated to “relatively junior election officials to determine – based on their personal and thus subjective judgement – whether the candidate is sincere and honest in his declaration.”

‘Political screening’

While she said the Court of Final Appeal’s decision in relation to the Occupy trio last week was a “welcome reassurance that the rule of law still prevails” at the top court, she commented that the government’s decision to bar candidates in the upcoming legislature by-election “looks very much like naked political screening of a pro-democracy candidate.”

Demosisto’s Agnes Chow, in addition to localist candidates, have been banned from taking part in the legislature elections in March for various reasons relating to their party’s – or their own – political stances.

“Once the impartiality of the system of prosecution is called into question, or certain politically motivated groupings seek to put pressure on and intimidate judges, any free society is perched precariously at the top of a very slippery slope,” she said.

anson chan
Chan giving the acceptance speech.

Chan said China should accept that support for Hong Kong’ position does not constitute western interference and that Beijing’s commitment to the Basic Law “is a fundamental litmus test of her respect for her obligations as a signatory to an internationally binding treaty.”

Chan also urged “Hong Kong’s many overseas friends, not least the United States“ to take an “active interest” in the city.

“In particular, they should continue to remind Beijing, in a non-confrontational way, that the world is still rightly interested and engaged in ensuring the continuing success and integrity of the concept of ‘one country, two systems’ for sound practical and economic reasons,” she said.

‘No question’ of political censorship

In a statement released by the Hong Kong government on Sunday, a spokesperson said that “Statements arbitrarily made to undermine the rule of law and our well-recognised reputation in this regard is not conducive to Hong Kong’s progress.”

The statement said the “full and successful implementation” of One Country, Two Systems demonstrated by the “high degree of autonomy” under Basic Law “has been widely recognised by the international community.”

Agnes Chow
Agnes Chow. Photo: In-Media.

It added that advocating Hong Kong’s independence or democratic self-determination – as well as proposing a referendum which includes independence as an option – are “inconsistent with the constitutional and legal status” of Hong Kong and China’s policies regarding Hong Kong.

“Decisions of the Returning Officers are made in accordance with the law and are aimed to ensure that elections are held in strict accordance with the Basic Law and other applicable laws in an open, honest and fair manner,” the statement continued.

“There is no question of any political censorship or restriction of the right to stand for elections as alleged by Mrs Chan.”

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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.