On Thursday, the Hong Kong government formally disqualified 12 opposition candidates from running in the upcoming elections for seats in the city’s legislature.
Among those disqualified was Joshua Wong, a prominent pro-democracy activist and former leader of the 2014 Occupy Central movement. Other candidates who were disqualified include fellow activists who were involved in last year’s democracy protests, as well as several acting lawmakers and district councillors.
In what he called the “biggest-ever crackdowns on the city’s election,” Wong confirmed on Twitter that his candidacy had been invalidated.
“#Beijing shows a total disregard for the will of the #Hongkongers, tramples upon the city’s last pillar of vanishing autonomy and attempts to keep #HK’s legislature under its firm grip,” he wrote.
The Hong Kong government issued a statement saying that the candidates were not fit to run for office if they had previously advocated for Hong Kong independence, solicited intervention from foreign governments, expressed an “objection in principle” to the national security law, expressed intention to oppose the government’s legislative proposals “so as to force the government to accede to certain political demands,” or refused to recognize China’s exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong.
On these grounds, the candidates in question could not “genuinely uphold” Hong Kong’s Basic Law, according to the statement, confirming fears that any opposition to the contentious national security law – before or after its enactment – was grounds for dismissal. They also stated that more disqualifications could not be ruled out.
“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,” read the statement, rebutting accusations that the move was an attempt to stifle free speech.
This move ruled out almost all of Hong Kong’s opposition camp under the requirement that candidates must not object to the national security law. According to a poll conducted by Reuters before the law’s promulgation, about 56% of Hong Kong residents opposed the legislation, with only 34% expressing support.
Opposition lawmaker Dennis Kwok, one of the disqualified candidates, said in a news conference “Today we are seeing the results of the relentless oppression that this regime is starting not only just to take away the basic fundamental rights and freedoms that were once enjoyed by all Hong Kong people, but they also trying to drive fear and repression into our hearts.”
The decision has also garnered international condemnation, with Chris Patten, the former British colonial governor of Hong Kong, calling it an “outrageous political purge.”
“The National Security law is being used to disenfranchise the majority of Hong Kong’s citizens. It is obviously now illegal to believe in democracy… This is the sort of behaviour that you would expect in a police state,” said Patten.
Amnesty International also released a statement by Hong Kong’s Program Manager Lam Cho-ming, which responded to the barring of the 12 candidates.
“For all the Hong Kong government’s insistence that these decisions do not restrict ‘freedom of speech’, its actions reek of political repression,” read the statement. “These disqualifications appear to be arbitrary, given that the authorities’ own justification makes clear their intention to punish peaceful criticism and advocacy of opposing views.”
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