Officials in Hong Kong have debarred another pro-democracy politician and land rights activist from running in a village-level election, sparking calls for his impeachment as a sitting member of the city's Legislative Council (LegCo) by pro-Beijing figures.
Eddie Chu's candidacy in village representative elections scheduled for January was rejected by election officer Enoch Yuen in a notice issued on Sunday.
Yuen told journalists that he had based the decision on Chu’s answers to key questions set for him, which he said could be understood as "implicitly confirming support for independence as a possible option for Hong Kong people."
Chu has said he has never supported independence for the city, which has seen a rapid erosion in freedom of speech in recent years after a string of high-profile political interventions by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, which had promised in the city a "high degree of autonomy" after the 1997 handover.
He said the move showed that the Hong Kong government now expects all its officials to act as "thought police."
"This red line will mean that we [lawmakers] are unable to continue to protect freedom of speech in Hong Kong," Chu told reporters on Monday. "They are importing the logic of the thought police into Hong Kong, and they want officials like this to uphold it."
Chu is the ninth Hong Kong politician to have been barred from candidacy in elections in the city, after six pro-democracy LegCo members were stripped of their seats when Beijing's parliament ruled their oaths of allegiance invalid.
Pro-Beijing figures began on Monday to call for his impeachment in the wake of the election ban.
Lawmaker Kwok Wai-keung, of the pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions, said the requirements for sitting in LegCo should be stricter than those for election as a village representative, according to a report from the Hong Kong Free Press.
Government 'red lines'
Democracy campaigner Joseph Cheng, a former political science professor at City University, said the ban on Chu was unreasonable, and a breach of the international covenant on civil and political rights.
"He has already made it clear that he doesn't support independence for Hong Kong, but yet Hong Kong officials say he does, because he doesn't oppose other people talking about it," Cheng said.
"There have been strong calls for independence, and they need to be publicly debated," he said.
Cheng said the government also appears to be drawing its "red lines" arbitrarily.
Pan-democratic lawmaker Claudia Mo agreed.
"Hong Kongers are supposed to come under the protection of all freedoms under the Basic Law. But now literally, practically [the government has] put a noose around our necks. Whether it goes tighter or looser is all subject to the authority's whims," she said in comments reported by government broadcaster RTHK.
She said the administration is "moving the goal posts and drawing its red line quite so liberally in any manner it wishes."
Last month, the Hong Kong Labour Party's would-be candidate Lau Siu-lai had her candidacy rejected by a returning officer, an administrative official charged with the orderly running of elections.
Lau has repeatedly denied that she supports the idea of self-determination for Hong Kong, which became a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China in 1997.
Alleged separatist views have already been used as grounds to debar two other prominent opposition figures—Agnes Chow and Andy Chan, founder of the separatist Hong Kong National Party.
But the returning officer claimed not to believe Lau, while Hong Kong's Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip said the pre-election screening process doesn't always allow applicants to put their case to officials.
The city's High Court ruled in February after the decision to ban Andy Chan from running in elections that would-be candidates should be given a "reasonable opportunity" to respond to doubts about their loyalty to Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.