Former Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmaker Au Nok-hin has said he will step down from his role as one of the coordinators of the democratic primaries, citing concerns over his personal safety after Beijing called the poll illegal.

Au’s announcement on Wednesday came after two of Beijing’s offices in Hong Kong blasted the primary election as a “serious provocation” to the current election system. They also said it was a “blatant challenge” to the Basic Law and the national security law, while urging local authorities to seriously investigate complaints and impose severe punishments if needed.

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Au Nok-hin (third from left)Photo: Rachel Wong/HKFP.

The primaries aim to narrow the list of democratic candidates to run in September’s Legislative Council election. Pan-democrats hope to win more than 35 seats to secure a majority in the legislature. Co-organising group Power for Democracy said more than 610,000 Hongkongers cast their votes over the weekend.

Au said on Facebook that although the democratic camp had maintained the poll was legal, the “ruling coalition” had taken another “unexpected” view. He said this had created risks to his personal safety and thus he had decided to withdraw from all duties related to the primaries.

“Withdrawal is the only choice that I can protect myself and others. It is a hard decision [made] with [an] apology. I hope everyone could understand my limitations,” he wrote.

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Hong Kong citizens line up to cast their votes in the democratic primaries. Photo: Stand News.

The Hong Kong government has repeatedly said the city has no legal basis for primaries. Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Monday said the aim of the primary election to secure a majority in the legislature and oppose government policies could violate the offence of subversion under the national security law.

The Beijing-enacted law also criminalises secession, terrorism and foreign interference. Violators could face up to life imprisonment. The Electoral Affairs Commission previously cautioned against colluding with foreign forces to undermine a local election.

Ho Long Sze Kelly is a Hong Kong-based journalist covering politics, criminal justice, human rights, social welfare and education. As a Senior Reporter at Hong Kong Free Press, she has covered the aftermath of the 2019 extradition bill protests and the Covid-19 pandemic extensively, as well as documented the transformation of her home city under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Kelly has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration. Prior to joining HKFP in 2020, she was on the frontlines covering the 2019 citywide unrest for South China Morning Post’s Young Post. She also covered sports and youth-related issues.