UK-based human rights watchdog Hong Kong Watch has recommended cancelling the upcoming Legislative Council by-elections, calling them “tainted” by the disqualification of candidates and lawmakers. The organisation said that the disqualified lawmakers should be reinstated.

In 2016, localists and pro-independence activists such as Edward Leung, Andy Chan and Nakade Hitsujiko were barred from running in the Legislative Council elections. Youngspiration’s Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching, who both won seats on the legislature, were disqualified over their oath-taking later that year.

The court last year further unseated four more pro-democracy lawmakers – Edward Yiu, Nathan Law, Lau Siu-lai and Leung Kwok-hung – over their oaths.

Yau Wai-ching and Baggio Leung
Yau Wai-ching and Baggio Leung. File photo: In-Media.

In a report published on Thursday, Hong Kong Watch said the disqualification of lawmakers was “unprecedented” prior to 2016, and that the actions of election officers amount to “unaccountable political screening.”

Hong Kong Watch Chair of Trustees Benedict Rogers said the disqualifications “violate fundamental human rights guaranteed by Hong Kong’s Basic Law and the Sino-British Joint Declaration.”

Several candidates including Demosisto’s Agnes Chow, localist Ventus Lau and Sha Tin district councillor James Chan were barred by electoral officers from running in the by-elections this coming Sunday over their political stances.

Rogers said Beijing’s “intervention in Hong Kong’s electoral process” via the oath-taking and disqualification of candidates is “a clear breach” of One Country, Two Systems.

“Sadly, this interference from Beijing seems to be an increasing trend, and I hope that this report from Hong Kong Watch will not only inform the international community of the concerning situation, but will also lead to constructive and effective diplomatic action to protect autonomy, democracy and rule of law in Hong Kong,” he said.

The report said that the disqualifications demand “urgent attention from the international community and especially the UK Government, a guarantor of the Sino-British Joint Declaration.” It suggests that the Hong Kong government establish an independent commission to regulate the confirmation and nomination process in place of electoral officers.

Nathan Law, Leung Kwok-hung, Lau Siu-lai, Edward Yiu.
Nathan Law, Leung Kwok-hung, Lau Siu-lai, Edward Yiu. All four were unseated in 2017 over their oaths. Photo: In-Media.

The oath-taking saga also prompted a controversial Basic Law interpretation by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee specifying the criteria for taking the oath and standing for election. The report recommended that the government publish a report within six months of an interpretation to determine whether it “is procedurally and substantively compatible with human rights provisions of the Basic Law and HKSAR Bill of Rights.”

Former British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind said that the report “makes very disturbing reading,” adding, “It demonstrates that the obligations that the Chinese Government accepted in 1997 are being eroded. The steps being  taken as regards disqualification of candidates reinforce the concern that there may be a strategy to diminish Hong Kong’s autonomy in a step by step process over the years.”

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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.