A political activist who was barred from running in elections to Hong Kong's legislature on political grounds has won an appeal against the administrative decision.
Former 2014 student protest leader Agnes Chow, now a member of the political party Demosisto, was disqualified from running in a LegCo by-election in March 2018 because her political views were judged to be pro-independence.
An electoral officer for Hong Kong Island ruled that she wasn't fit to stand in a byelection to fill the seat left empty by the earlier disqualification of Demosisto lawmaker Nathan Law, one of six pro-democracy LegCo members to be disqualified because of the way they took their oaths of allegiance.
Chow launched a legal challenge to her disqualification, and on Monday won her appeal in Hong Kong's High Court.
The returning officer cited Demosisto had previously called for self-determination for the people of Hong Kong, which pro-Beijing politicians have said is tantamount to advocating independence.
A High Court judge ruled on Monday that the election officer had failed to give Chow a fair opportunity to respond to the claim that she was incapable of upholding Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, because of Demosisto's political platform.
Judge Anderson Chow said there was a "breach of the principle of natural justice or procedural fairness" in the officer's decision.
The right to be heard is "an important procedural safeguard which should not be lightly displaced," the judge found.
The decision nullified the result of the by-election that went ahead without Chow, unseating pro-democracy lawmaker Au Nok-hin.
But Agnes Chow told journalists outside the court that the decision hadn't changed the core issue at stake: the debarring of would-be candidates based on their political views.
"The judge mainly based his conclusion on the fact that ... the [electoral] officer was in violation of principles of fairness when they disqualified me without asking me to clarify my political opinions and stance," Chow said. "That's why I won the appeal."
"But the [electoral officers] still have have the power to revoke a candidacy based on the political views of a candidate, if they follow the due process of asking them about their views," she said. "That's why I am calling this a bittersweet victory."
'A slap in the face for the government'
Au welcomed the news, in spite of having lost his seat in LegCo.
"Agnes Chow's victory is a slap in the face for the government," Au said. "It has been a great honor, even though I have now lost my seat, and I hope to continue to serve the people of Hong Kong as a district councillor."
Lau Siu-lai, a former LegCo member who was also disqualified after Beijing ruled her oath-taking invalid, said she would discuss how the ruling in Chow's appeal could affect legal action of her own.
But she made the same point as Chow about the judgment.
"The government may not have implemented it well, but the returning officer still has the right to strip a person of their candidacy," Lau said. "This is the real crux of the matter, and I don't think it has been properly talked about."
Prospective candidates can now only run in elections to LegCo or Hong Kong's district councils if they sign a letter pledging allegiance to the Hong Kong government and the city's mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
Anyone who is believed to support independence or "democratic autonomy" for Hong Kong, which was handed back to the People's Republic of China in 1997, is also prevented from standing,
The barring of certain candidates because of their political views has sparked widespread criticism among barristers, rights groups and pro-democracy politicians, as well as among former British and Hong Kong officials, who say the move is a blow to democracy and freedom of expression in the former British colony.
And a proposed extension of the ban to include calls for a democratic China would make it much harder for pro-democracy politicians and rights activists who have made such comments in the past to stand for election, regardless of their views on independence.
Au has previously warned that if such criteria are extended to district council elections, pro-democracy candidates will be locked out of both levels of Hong Kong politics.
Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.