Hong Kong authorities have barred a pro-democracy legislator from running in a local election due to his “implicit” support for Hong Kong’s independence from China, in what critics say is another instance of civil rights being eroded in the Beijing-ruled city.
Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, 40, a former journalist and land activist, was democratically elected as one of Hong Kong’s 70 legislators in a 2016 election, winning more votes than any other candidate despite running as an independent.
He had planned to contest a separate grassroots poll to represent a village in the rural hinterland of the New Territories.
But an official with Hong Kong’s Electoral Affairs Commission, Enoch Yuen, wrote to Eddie on Sunday, disqualifying him as a candidate on the grounds that he had previously expressed support for “independence as an option for Hong Kong people to self-determine their future”.
While Eddie had written to Enoch stating he didn’t support independence, she concluded that Eddie‘s answers “when viewed objectively, can be understood as implicitly confirming that he supports independence could be an option for Hong Kong people”.
According to the South China Morning Post, it is the first time a candidate has been barred from running in the rural election because of his political stance.
Eddie said he might challenge the “ridiculous” decision in court, and that he had been stripped of a fundamental political right at a time when Beijing has tightened its grip on the city.
He pointed out that he was already an elected legislator with strong public backing, whose suitability for public office had never previously been questioned.
“I think the incident has revealed this logic – not only must you not advocate independence, you have to oppose it,” he told reporters. “I have not moved the goalposts. I have not changed.”
“They need to clearly tell the people of Hong Kong … how they can, without any public consultation or legislative process, change the threshold of political screening,” he said.
One country, two systems
Hong Kong, a former British colony, reverted to Chinese rule in 1997 amid guarantees the territory would enjoy a high degree of autonomy and freedoms under a “one country, two systems” formula.
Over the past year, however, international concern has spread over a series of incidents that have further undermined confidence in the rights situation in Hong Kong, including the de facto expulsion of a British journalist after he hosted a speech by a pro-independence activist at a press club.
Sunday’s move adds Eddie to a list of other democrats who have been banned from contesting elections, raising fears of tightening political “red lines” by Beijing that could deny Hong Kong’s disaffected young people any mainstream political careers beyond street protest.
In a statement, a government spokesman said late on Sunday that the government “agrees to and supports the decision” to ban Eddie. It also denied there had been “any political censorship, restriction of the freedom of speech or deprivation of the right to stand for elections”.
“There will be consequences, be it the public losing hope in the government, or other countries’ perception of ‘one country, two systems’,” Eddie said. “One day we will fight back again.”
Hong Kong authorities say “self-determination”, or seeking greater autonomy from China, violates the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, which states that Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China.