A political party formed by the leaders of the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong has stepped up its fight to win legal recognition after its application to register as a company was rejected.
Former Occupy Central student leader and current secretary general of Demosisto Joshua Wong applied on Tuesday for a judicial review over the authorities' refusal to register the party.
Wong is requesting that the city's High Court review the decision, after the group's application to the Companies Registry was rejected on the grounds that the party advocates self-determination for Hong Kong, which Beijing sees as akin to a pro-independence stance.
"They dragged it out for nearly two years, so it's pretty clear that the Companies Registry had political issues to consider," Wong told reporters on Tuesday. "In the absence of any Hong Kong law on political parties, it is entirely reasonable for political groups to register as companies."
"Demosisto isn't advocating armed revolution or any acts of violence, so why would it be turned down by the Companies Registry on political grounds? It beggars belief," he said.
The rejection of the party's application comes after it was denied a bank account two years ago, making it very hard for the party to manage its finances properly, Wong said.
"Hong Kong people deserve freedom of speech and deserve the right to express different political stances or opinions," he said.
Chinese officials have repeatedly warned that advocates of independence for Hong Kong won't be tolerated in public life. Wong said the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party has also been refused permission to register as a company.
"Last year, the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party was rejected by the Companies Registry, and this year Demosisto, which supports self-determination, was rejected when it tried to set up as a limited company," Wong said.
"Maybe in future any party that espouses the principles of democracy and the rule of law, or any group that wants to end one-party rule [in China] will also be denied permission to register as a company, for overriding reasons of 'national security'?" he said.
Demosisto initially had some success at the polls, with former Occupy Central student leader Nathan Law becoming the youngest ever candidate to be elected to the city's Legislative Council (LegCo) in September 2016.
But last July, Law became one of six pro-democracy lawmakers to be stripped of their LegCo seats after China's parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), ruled that oaths of allegiance must be "solemn and sincere."
Last month, Demosisto's Agnes Chow was disqualified from running in a by-election to fill the seat vacated by law, because her political views were judged to be pro-independence.
A blow to democracy
The barring of certain candidates because of their political views sparked widespread criticism among barristers, rights groups and politicians, as well as former British and Hong Kong officials, who said the move was a blow to democracy and freedom of expression in the former British colony.
An official who answered the phone at the Treasury on Tuesday said they were unable to comment on individual cases.
But they said that any organization that clearly contravenes the principles of the city's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, would be disqualified from registering under the Companies Ordinance.
Hong Kong's South China Morning Post newspaper reported last week that the head of a British parliamentary committee on China had traveled to Hong Kong to investigate the legal basis of election officials’ decision to ban Chow from running in the election.
Conservative MP Richard Graham, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary China Group, told the paper that the delegation hoped to learn more about the legal basis of the ban on Chow.
In February, the British Foreign Office said it was concerned over the debarring of Chow, citing Article 26 of the Basic Law, which states that: "Permanent residents of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall have the right to vote and the right to stand for election in accordance with law."
Last August, a Hong Kong court jailed Wong, Law and former student leader Alex Chow for their part in the Occupy protests, after the city's department of justice said their original non-jail sentences were too lenient.
They served several weeks in jail, but were later released on bail and their sentences quashed by the Court of Final Appeal, which ruled that tougher sentencing guidelines on public protest couldn't be retroactively applied.
But the court warned that future sentences for those involved in mass public protests could be much tougher.
Reported by Lam Kwok-lap for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by He Ping for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.