Hong Kong Barristers Say Election Officials Now Conduct ‘Political Screenings’ of Candidates

china-agnes-chow-hong-kong-protest-jan28-2018.jpg Pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow stands in front of the media during a protest outside the headquarters of the Hong Kong government in Hong Kong, Jan. 28, 2018.

Lawyers in Hong Kong have hit out at the barring of election candidates ahead of by-elections for the city’s Legislative Council (LegCo) next month, saying it is effectively a form of “political screening” carried out by government officials.

“The Bar is concerned about the recent disqualification of … Agnes Chow from taking part in the by-election of the Legislative Council in March 2018,” the Hong Kong Bar Association said in a statement on its website.

It said the decision of the election official who rejected Chow’s application was made without giving her any opportunity to be heard.

“The Hong Kong Bar Association is also concerned about the disqualification of a candidate to stand for election on the basis of his or her association with a political party or the holding of certain political beliefs,” it said.

Chow is a key member of the pro-democracy party Demosisto, which was formed by the leaders of the 2014 Occupy Central movement, and which espouses “self-determination” for the city, which was promised a “high degree of autonomy” following the 1997 handover to Chinese rule.

The bar on Chow is significant, because it sets a precedent for direct influence on the selection of Hong Kong election candidates according to Beijing’s wishes, casting serious doubts on promises made by the ruling Chinese Communist Party in a treaty before the handover.

The decision was influenced by Beijing’s parliament, the National People’s Congress, whose standing committee issued an interpretation that led to the disqualification of six directly elected pro-democracy lawmakers because their oaths of allegiance were judged not to be “solemn and sincere.”

The Bar Association said that allowing government election officials to inquire into a candidate’s personal and political beliefs was “regrettable.”

“This regrettably is equivalent to the introduction of a political screening process for any prospective candidate, and there is no fair, open, certain and clear procedure to regulate this process; nor any timely remedy against an adverse decision,” it said.

“It is particularly worrying that the requirement of “upholding the Basic Law” is a vague and imprecise political concept, which has now to be interpreted and administered by a civil servant under a closed door inquiry,” the Feb. 14 statement said.

On the CCP's side

The lawyers’ protest came after pro-independence activist Andy Chan of the Hong Kong National Party lost a petition to overturn the 2016 LegCo election, from which he was banned from running.

The Court of First Instance ruled earlier this week that an election officer is entitled to ask whether the candidate understands the relevant articles in Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, which include upholding the article stating that Hong Kong is part of the People’s Republic of China.

“In a choice between the authoritarian Communist Party and freedom, democracy and human rights for Hong Kong people, the court has opted to stand on the side of the Chinese Communist Party authoritarian regime,” Chan told reporters after the judgment.

“We emphasize in the petition that the role of the returning officer is only to mechanically handle clerical work and ensure that the forms have been filled in, but the district judge thinks that the role of returning officer is not just an administrative one,” he said.

“The returning officers [apparently] have the right to examine the entire nomination; he has given them the right to conduct political screening,” Chan said.

He warned that pro-independence candidates were the start of a process that could extend much further across Hong Kong’s political spectrum.

“First they bar pro-independence candidates from running, second they bar those who advocate self-determination from running,” Chan was quoted as saying by the Hong Kong Free Press. “Then they will bar localists and democrats.”

Reported by Lam Kwok-lap for RFA’s Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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