The Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang has threatened the Wall Street Journal over an editorial it published about this month’s upcoming legislative election.

In the letter, printed by the Journal on Monday, Tsang said that inciting another person not to vote, or to cast an invalid vote, is illegal “irrespective whether the incitement is made in Hong Kong or abroad. We reserve the right to take necessary action.”

Last Tuesday’s editorial, “Hong Kong Says Vote – or Else,” contained “baseless assumptions,” Tsang wrote. He said last year’s legislative race was postponed due to Covid-19, not because democrats swept the polls during the 2019 district elections.

However, in the interim, Beijing has approved sweeping changes to the electoral system with candidate vetting and reduced democratic representation, making it near-impossible for democrats to stand.

In his rebuttal, Tsang also claimed that it was untrue for the editorial to state that Hongkongers “risk harsh penalties if they protest in public.” He said it was “not only incorrect but also scaremongering,” adding that rights are guaranteed in the security law and Basic Law.

Photo: HKFP.

However, most pro-democracy figures remain behind bars, in self-exile, or have quit politics, whilst police have not approved any mass demonstrations since the onset of the security law, citing Covid-19.

A month ago, police arrested four elderly people on suspicion of “seditious intent” after displaying a banner demanding genuine universal suffrage, despite the Basic Law’s promise of democracy.

Tsang also said that pledges of allegiance are common around the world, and that it was untrue to state that the Communist Party vets election candidates. Candidates are, however, pre-vetted by the local authorities and must undergo national security checks.

Dated December 1, the letter said that “[w]e encourage all eligible civic-minded voters to take part in the LegCo Election next month.” The “patriots only” poll is actually set to take place on December 19.

The original editorial said that “China’s Communist Party wants the world to forget how it crushed the autonomy it promised to the territory,” after arrest warrants were issued last week for two self-exiled democrats who encouraged an election boycott.

“Boycotts and blank ballots are one of the last ways for Hong Kongers to express their political views,” the Journal wrote.

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Tom is the editor-in-chief and founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications and New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Al-Jazeera and others.