Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong and several other democratic election hopefuls have said they do not intend to continue international lobbying efforts. This came as part of their responses to government questions related to their eligibility to run in the 2020 Legislative Council election.

More than ten candidates from the pro-democracy camp received letters from returning officers over the weekend, demanding they answer questions about their politics, the national security law, US sanctions and other issues within 24 hours.

Joshua Wong
Joshua Wong. File photo: Studio Incendo.

Wong, former leader of the now-disbanded political group Demosisto, disagreed with the electoral officer’s claim that he and Demosisto had advocated self-determination. The principle considers Hong Kong independence to be an option.

In his reply on Monday, Wong said the group had changed its motto six months ago. He said he accepted the People’s Republic of China exercised sovereignty over Hong Kong and he had no intention to change the legal status of the HKSAR.

The activist previously publicly appealed to foreign countries – including the US – to support the city’s pro-democracy movement. He said he had no intention to continue urging the US to impose sanctions on local officials or ask other governments to adopt legislation similar to the Hong Kong Democracy Act, which monitors potential human rights abuses in the city.

“I have no intention to use the powers of foreign countries to put pressure on China or Hong Kong. I have never drawn support from overseas powers to engage in local political activities,” Wong wrote.

In a Facebook post, Wong criticised the Kowloon East electoral officer Alice Choi as “prejudiced” and acting in a “politically motivated” fashion. He accused her of “plotting” to disqualify him and conducting “ideology scrutiny.”

He said he felt Choi was attempting to “fabricate” offences under the new Beijing-imposed legislation, criminalising secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference, rather than reviewing his eligibility to run in the September election.

“When drafting my reply, I had a strong feeling that I was invited by the national security office to give a written testimony, rather than simply defending the validity of my nomination. I cannot rule out that this document will be key to the national security scrutiny in the future,” Wong said.

Similar replies were sent to returning officers from Civic Party members Alvin Yeung, Dennis Kwok, Kwok Ka-ki and Tat Cheng. The incumbent lawmakers said it was hard for them to accept the “subjective interpretation and assumptions” in a question about how they could fulfil the requirement of swearing allegiance to the Basic Law and HKSAR whilst lobbying.

Civic Party election
Civic Party members show the letters from the returning officer at a press conference on July 25, 2020. Photo: Civic Party.

“The international community, out of its own volition and on its own initiative, do
what it has been doing to help safeguard its own interests and the common values
that we all share. Given its stakes in Hong Kong, this is understood,” they wrote.

Southern District Councillor Tiffany Yuen wrote in her reply that she was against the current security law, but she did not oppose the HKSAR’s constitutional duties to safeguard national security.

Former reporter Gwyneth Ho, activist Sunny Cheung and Central and Western District Councillor Fergus Leung said they opposed Beijing’s move to insert the legislation into Annex lll of the Basic Law, which they saw as contradicting the mini-constitution.

Yuen also responded to a question about a photo of the banned protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times” on her Instagram account.

She said it was uploaded in early January and she had not posted any content containing the slogan after the government labelled it pro-independence, secessionist and subversive in intent earlier this month.

The photo has been taken down to prevent Hong Kong Island electoral officer Steve Wong from making an “improper decision,” Yuen said: “I was shocked to know that Mr Wong pays so much attention to my Instagram, tracing posts from half a year ago… I hope he can end this kind of ‘political censorship stalker’ work as soon as possible.”

Democrat primary election Tiffany Yuen
Tiffany Yuen. Photo: Studio Incendo.

Ventus Lau, who was barred from entering the New Territories East By-election in March 2018, told the returning officer his political stance had changed since 2017 and he no longer supported Hong Kong independence.

Jimmy Sham of the League of Social Democrats, Civic Party’s Jeremy Tam and Gordon Lam; Civic Passion’s Alvin Cheng and Cheng Chung-tai were among the latest group of candidates to be grilled by electoral authorities.

On Sunday, the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau said returning officers would determine the validity of the candidates’ nomination according to “legal requirements and “relevant procedures.” They may seek advice from the Department of Justice and other relevant government bodies, as well as request candidates to give additional information during the process, the bureau said.

electoral affairs commission 2020 legislative council election
Barnabas Fung (middle) and members of Electoral Affairs Commission. Photo: GovHK.

Last month, the Electoral Affairs Commission announced it would change its returning officers ahead of the upcoming election. For instance, Wong Tai Sin District Officer Steve Wong was assigned to oversee the Hong Kong Island geographical constituency, while Islands District Officer Amy Yeung was handed responsibility for the New Territories East constituency.

Pro-democracy candidates have questioned the government’s motive behind such changes, raising concerns over whether authorities were preparing to disqualify democratic election hopefuls. But the Home Affairs Bureau said the move was to ensure fairness in the system.

Correction 18.9.20: a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Civic Party members had sent letters to officers at the Electoral Affairs Commission. They had sent letters to returning officers.

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.