Hong Kong’s leader on Tuesday rejected foreign interference in the city’s internal affairs and denied coming under any pressure from Beijing to bar Agnes Chow Ting from running in the March legislative by-election as the European Union criticised the disqualification of the pro-democracy activist.
“There are absolutely no grounds for that sort of accusation or allegation of pressure,” Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said after the EU issued a statement warning that banning Chow from the by-election “risks diminishing Hong Kong’s international reputation as a free and open society”.
Chow, 21, was seeking to contest the Hong Kong Island constituency seat vacated by Nathan Law Kwun-chung when he was disqualified last year for an improperly taken oath of office. But her candidacy was ruled invalid by a returning officer on the grounds that her party, Demosisto, had called for the city’s “self-determination”, rendering her ineligible under rules to curb independence advocacy.
The government announced and supported the decision.
The EU’s European External Action Service, which handles the union’s foreign relations, said: “The protection of civil and political rights in Hong Kong is an essential part of the implementation of the ‘one country, two systems’ principle”.
In another statement, British activist Benedict Rogers, chairman of concern group Hong Kong Watch, said: “Chow’s disqualification is yet another example of the erosion of freedom of expression and the political rights of Hong Kong people.”
Asked whether such perceptions were hurting Hong Kong’s image, Lam retorted that some overseas organisations and politicians seemed to lack understanding about the city’s constitutional status.
“The returning officers in Hong Kong are acting in accordance with the law,” she insisted, referring to officials from the Electoral Affairs Commission tasked with approving election candidates’ nominations.
Lam said residents could enjoy political rights, including the right to elect and to be elected, as long as they would abide by the law.
“If some kinds of political ideology are clearly contravening the Basic Law or one country, two systems … they could not fit our legal requirements,” she said.
Also on Tuesday, the Progressive Lawyers’ Group, comprising barristers, solicitors and law students, expressed its “enormous disappointment” at the government’s support for the returning officer’s decision to invalidate Chow’s nomination.
The group said the decision “not only unjustly deprived a candidate of the constitutional right to stand for election”, but “also unfairly restricted the Hong Kong public’s right to vote for their preferred candidate”.
The professional group said it was “gravely concerned by the capricious use of electoral regulations”.
The government issued a separate statement stressing that Hong Kong had been exercising a high degree of autonomy since its handover to Chinese rule, which had demonstrated the “full and successful implementation” of the one country, two systems principle that had been widely recognised by the international community.
“Foreign organisations and politicians should not interfere in any form in the internal affairs [of Hong Kong],” a spokesman said.
Additional reporting by Su Xinqi
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