Activist Joshua Wong filed a judicial review application on Tuesday against a government agency which refused to register his Demosisto party as a company.

The pro-democracy party was founded in April 2016 but it has been unable to register as a limited company. The party instead uses another firm – Chung Chi Limited – which sounds similar to party’s Chinese name. It was formed nine days after the party’s establishment to conduct its finances.

Wong, the party’s secretary general, said on Tuesday that Demosisto sent its application to the Companies Registry in February 2016, but was met with multiple delays.

Photo: Inmedia.

The party finally received official notification in January that its application had been denied – around the time its party member Agnes Chow was barred from running in the 2018 legislative council by-election, according to Wong. He said the timing showed that the registry “clearly had political considerations that overrode its administrative principles.”

Political parties typically register as companies in order to become legally recognised entities as there is no law relating to political parties in Hong Kong.

Wong said in the judicial review application that the Companies Ordinance makes no mention that groups advocating independence or self-determination cannot register as companies.

Judicial reviews are considered by the Court of First Instance and examine the decision-making processes of administrative bodies. Issues under review must be shown to affect the wider public interest.

‘Freedom of speech’

“Hong Kong people deserve freedom of speech and deserve the right to express [a] different political stance or opinion,” Wong told reporters. “So why – because of just advocating self-determination – will [we] have censorship to disqualify the application of Demosisto registered as a company?”

The Companies Ordinance states that a company may only be formed for a lawful purpose.

Agnes Chow. Photo: Demosisto.

According to Ming Pao, the registry said in its correspondence that “democratic self-determination” and “determination” did not conform with the constitution and violate the Basic Law. Therefore, the registry said, it denied Demosisto’s registration as it did not have a lawful purpose.

The registry previously told the newspaper that companies can only be formed for lawful purposes, but declined to comment on individual cases.

Last year, the registry denied an application from the Hong Kong National Party – which advocates independence for the city – to change the name of a shell company it purchased to “HKNP Limited.” It stated that advocating independence was in violation of the Basic Law and therefore was considered unlawful.

“[I]n today’s political atmosphere, nobody knows where the red line will creep up to,” Wong said.

“I believe that, from disqualifying Agnes Chow, to the Benny Tai case, to disqualifying Demosisto’s company registration, it can be seen that the government – from Beijing to Hong Kong – is paving the way for Article 23 in all aspects.”

Article 23 of the Basic Law stipulates that the Hong Kong government shall enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the central government. Its legislation failed in 2003 following mass protests. Pro-democracy advocates fear it could have a negative effect on civil liberties.

Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.