One of the 21 pro-democracy politicians barred from contesting Macau’s legislative elections this year says he fears being “pursued” by the authorities over his past support for pluralism.

The Court of Final Appeal in a decision on Saturday upheld the ban imposed by electoral officials, prompting strong criticism from the European Union. China, in turn, condemned Europe as “interfering” in its affairs.

President of the Electoral Affairs Commission Tong Hio-fong. File Photo: i-Cable Screenshot.

The electoral authority decided in early July to remove – without warning – all 21 pro-democracy contenders from the race. Fifteen of the 21 had filed a joint appeal to Macau’s Court of Final Appeal against the Electoral Affairs Commission decision, but three judges upheld it.

The candidates were deemed ineligible because they had allegedly failed to uphold the Basic Law and bear allegiance to Macau, Hong Kong’s sister Special Administrative Region of China, based on evidence presented by police.

Macau. File photo: konkarampelas, via Pixabay.

Scott Chiang, who had planned to run alongside incumbent pro-democracy lawmaker Ng Kuok-cheong before being disqualified, told HKFP the court’s decision had been expected.

Police collected over 200 pages of information to justify the disqualification of Ng. It included a photo taken with a leader of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party in 2019, photos of the annual June 4 Tiananmen Massacre vigils which he organised, and pictures of a tour to Taiwan during its presidential elections.

The judges said annual June 4 events to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre included photo exhibitions with wording such as “massacre of a city” and “end one-party rule.”

Such contents “are clearly provocative and libellous, and are obviously opposed to the Central Government’s deliberation and characterisation of the ‘June 4 incident’… [it] challenges the Chinese Communist Party’s years of leadership,” their judgement read.

Scott Chiang macau
Scott Chiang. Photo: Scott Chiang via Facebook.

“That election candidates organised and participated in June 4 events, expressed views in support of June 4 activities, organised and joined events to commemorate Liu Xiaobo, expressed support for the ’08 Charter’ and behaviour supporting colour revolution were fundamentally an assault and damage to ‘One Country Two Systems.”

Liu, a prominent detained Chinese dissident and Nobel peace prizewinner, died of cancer in 2017.

Decision before investigation

Jorge Menezes, the lawyer who represented the 15 candidates, criticised the court for upholding the decision by the electoral commission which he said violated due process and Macau’s Basic Law.

The commission had come up with seven grounds for barring candidates but these were made public only days after they had actually been disqualified.

The decision was made in “secret” without giving candidates the right to be heard, and was biased as there was no sign that pro-establishment candidates were investigated similarly. “This was an absolute [over]reach,” Menezes told HKFP.

Ng Kuok-cheong
Lawmaker Ng Kuok-cheong. Photo: Ng Kuok-cheong via Facebook..

“It shows the decision was taken before even the investigation started,” he said.

More to come

Chiang expressed fears that Macau democrats may face further action from authorities other than the disqualifications.

“If participating in politics means to participate in parliamentary politics or consultative bodies, there won’t be ways to do so in the short-term. The current question isn’t what you plan to do, but what they plan to do to you,” he said, in response to HKFP’s question over whether he was worried about facing a national security investigation.

macau flag
File photo: Macau Gov’t.

“I won’t underestimate the other side… Perhaps [they would] look at anything else you did in the past that could be pursued with,” Chiang said.

‘Patronising lectures’

A spokesperson for the European Union (EU) urged Macau in a statement on Saturday to uphold rights and freedoms for candidates from across the political spectrum. “This is a detrimental step that runs counter to the rights guaranteed in Macau’s Basic Law. It undermines political pluralism and curtails democratic debate.”

In response to the EU statement, a spokesperson from China’s mission to the EU said it “does not tolerate interference from any foreign forces.”

“We express our strong discontent and firm opposition. For a period, the EU has once and again pointed fingers at Hong Kong and Macau SAR’s affairs. We formally declare to Europe that the Chinese people do not accept patronising lectures,” the statement read.

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Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.