Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Ventus Lau has won an election petition to challenge a decision which barred him from running in a by-election last March. A court said on Friday that Lau was deprived of the chance to respond to the ban on his candidacy.

Lau was prohibited from entering the Legislative Council race last March for the New Territories East constituency after an election officer cited old Facebook posts apparently supporting Hong Kong independence in her decision to disqualify him. But the activist said he had renounced his position after interacting with citizens who were against independence.

Returning Officer Amy Chan said she was not satisfied Lau would wholeheartedly uphold the Basic Law and pledge allegiance to the Hong Kong SAR – a requirement for standing in the election – thus, Lau was disqualified.

Ventus Lau
Ventus Lau barred from standing in March by-election for supporting Hong Kong independence in a Facebook post. Photo: inmediahk.net.

Lau was set to fill the seat left vacant by disqualified lawmaker Baggio Leung, who reportedly supported the activist’s run.

His election petition hearing was held last Wednesday.

The ruling’s announcement on Friday means that Neo Democrat lawmaker Gary Fan has been ousted from his seat, since he was not duly elected owing to Lau’s wrongful disqualification.

Speaking to the press shortly afterwards, Fan said that he accepted the judge’s decision: “I believe that no one, no Hong Kong citizen, should be disqualified, should be deprived of his right to run for public office, solely because of his political belief,” he said. “By depriving – by taking away, the seat of an elected councillor or to deprive a candidate of his right to run for office is hurting, damaging the functions of the Legislative Council.”

Fan – who was one of the parties in the case – added that his team, legal aides and the Neo Democrats will study the judgement and decide whether to file an appeal later.

Agnes Chow

In handing down his judgement, Court of First Instance Judge Anderson Chow drew multiple parallels between Lau’s case and that of pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow, whose by-election ban was overturned by the same judge on September 2.

high court
File photo: inmediahk.net.

Chow was disqualified from running in the March 2018 legislative by-election because of her affiliation with Demosisto ⁠— a group which supports Hongkongers’ right to self-determination. Returning Officer Anne Teng said Chow would not be able to uphold the city’s Basic Law and pledge allegiance to Hong Kong.

Judge Chow later ruled that Teng “did not give Ms Chow any reasonable opportunity to respond” to the materials used to decide she was ineligible. The decision meant that Chow’s replacement candidate – independent Au Nok-hin – was also unseated.

In his ruling on Friday, the judge said he saw “no reason to differ from the conclusions” he reached in Chow’s case when considering Lau’s ban.

“In [Chow’s] case, as here, the candidate was not given an opportunity to respond to the materials intended to be relied upon by the returning officer for the decision that the candidate’s nomination was invalid,” he wrote, concluding that the returning officer’s failure to give Lau an opportunity to respond to the ban constituted a material irregularity.

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Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.