The recent election ban on young Hong Kong activist Agnes Chow Ting is no different from “naked political screening of a pro-democracy candidate”, the city’s former No 2 official said on Sunday as she urged the international community to speak out and protect the former British colony’s freedoms.
Anson Chan Fang On-sang also said China should accept that global support for Hong Kong’s special position does not constitute “interference” by the West. Chan claimed Beijing’s adherence to the “one country, two systems” principle and the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, was a fundamental litmus test of its respect for the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
“The international community is entitled to expect that China’s growing importance as a global superpower is matched by a greater commitment to global values,” she said.
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Chan, who served as the city’s chief secretary from 1993 to 2001, was speaking in the United States on Sunday Hong Kong time as she received the annual O’Connor Justice Prize for her work in advancing social justice in the city. She is the prize’s fourth recipient, following former US president Jimmy Carter.
During her acceptance speech, Chan said worrying evidence had suggested that Hong Kong officials, under pressure from Beijing, were increasing ruling by law to suppress dissent and intimidate pro-democracy protesters.
She cited the legal bid mounted by the government in 2016 that led to six pro-democracy lawmakers being disqualified from the Legislative Council. She also noted its decision last month to ban activist Agnes Chow Ting, 21, from a Legco by-election next month on the grounds that her political party, Demosisto, advocated self-determination for the city.
“The government has added salt to the wounds by refusing to validate a candidate from a political party that promotes the right of Hongkongers to determine how best to preserve their values and lifestyle but stops short of advocating independence,” she said. “This decision looks very much like naked political screening of a pro-democracy candidate.”
Chan also called the justice secretary’s decision to seek stiffer punishment for three leading Occupy movement student activists, including Joshua Wong Chi-fung, “vindictive”. Chan described the effort as “not just to punish, but to blight the future political role of the three gifted and passionate young men”.
The three pro-democracy advocates were put behind bars last year after a local court ruled in the government’s favour, but the jail terms were quashed last week by the city’s top court, which at the same time endorsed stricter sentencing guidelines for unlawful protests in future.
“Once the impartiality of the system of prosecution is called into question, or certain politically motivated groups seek to put pressure on and intimidate judges, any free society is perched precariously at the top of a very slippery slope,” she said.
Chan said it had become clear that Beijing was now bent on moulding the city’s governance to become more closely aligned with that of the mainland, and she called on the international community to voice their concern.
“Hong Kong’s many overseas friends, not least the United States, can play a key role by continuing to take an active interest in Hong Kong,” she said. “They should continue to remind Beijing, in a non-confrontational way, that the world is still rightly interested and engaged in ensuring the continuing success and integrity of the concept of ‘one country, two systems’ for sound practical and economic reasons.”
The O’Connor Justice Prize was created to honour retired US Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor – the first woman to serve on America’s highest court. It recognises those who have made extraordinary efforts to advance the rule of law, justice and human rights.
The previous three recipients were Carter, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay of South Africa, and former Spanish foreign minister Ana Palacio.
On Sunday night a Hong Kong government spokesman hit out at Chan’s remarks, saying there was no question of any political censorship or restriction of the right to stand for elections.
“Statements arbitrarily made to undermine the rule of law and our well-recognised reputation in this regard are not conducive to Hong Kong’s progress,” the spokesman said.
Watch: Hong Kong legislative elections explained