Hong Kong authorities have disqualified 12 pro-democracy candidates from upcoming elections, deepening political tensions in the Chinese territory.
Opposition legislators had hoped to obtain a majority in the Legislative Council (LegCo) in September’s poll after Beijing’s imposition of a highly controversial national security law.
Among those barred are high-profile activists Joshua Wong and Lester Shum.
The government said the candidates were not fit to run for office.
It said they could not be considered to be abiding by the constitutional duty required of lawmakers if they:
- advocated for, or promoted, Hong Kong’s independence
- solicited intervention by foreign governments in Hong Kong’s affairs
- expressed “an objection in principle” to the imposition of the national security law by central authorities in Beijing
Joshua Wong, who rose to prominence as a teenage activist during protests in 2014, said the decision showed “a total disregard for the will of Hongkongers” and “tramples upon the city’s last pillar of vanishing autonomy”.
In its statement announcing the disqualifications, the government said the decision was taken in line with Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – the Basic Law.
“There is no question of any political censorship, restriction of the freedom of speech or deprivation of the right to stand for elections as alleged by some members of the community,” it said, adding that more disqualifications could not be ruled out.
The new national security law has been highly controversial in Hong Kong, a former British colony which is now part of China but which was given unique freedoms in an agreement before the transfer of sovereignty.
The new law was widely condemned by Western governments but China says it is necessary to restore stability in the territory, which was hit by months of pro-democracy protests last year which often turned violent.
The opposition candidates disqualified on Thursday include four incumbent lawmakers, four district councillors (including Mr Shum) and activists Ventus Lau Wing-hong, Gwyneth Ho Kwai-Lam and Alvin Cheng Kam-mun, in addition to Mr Wong.
The disqualification of candidates comes as Hong Kong sees a resurgence of coronavirus.
On Wednesday, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam said it was on the verge of a “large-scale outbreak”, which could cause hospitals to “collapse”.
There has been speculation that the government could postpone the election as a result.
What is LegCo?
The Legislative Council – or LegCo – helps to make and amend Hong Kong’s laws.
It is made up of 70 seats – but only 35 of these seats are directly voted for by the public.
Another 30 seats represent “functional constituencies” – these are voted for by smaller groups representing special interests, primarily businesses, banking and trade. Historically these sectors have been largely pro-Beijing.
The last five seats are made up of district councillors who are elected by the public to sit on LegCo.
This system, where only a proportion of LegCo councillors are chosen by the public, has been called undemocratic by critics but supporters of the system say it helps avoid populism and protects Hong Kong’s business interests.