Officials in Hong Kong have barred 2014 student leader and democracy activist Joshua Wong from running in forthcoming district elections, in a move that Wong slammed as "politically driven."
"I have become the ONLY candidate banned from running in November’s District Council Election," Wong wrote in a statement on his Facebook page on Tuesday. "The decision to ban me from running office is clearly politically-driven."
He said the decision, which came after a civil servant in charge of ruling on his application mysteriously went on sick leave, was based on the subjective interpretation of his intention to uphold the city's mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
"But everyone [knows] that the true reason is my identity, Joshua Wong, a crime in their mind," he said.
He said the "disappearance" of Dorothy Ma, a returning officer in charge of administering elections for the executive branch of government, had made it clear that the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Beijing had "exerted extremely strong pressure" on Hong Kong officials charged with processing his application.
Wong's application for candidacy was ruled "invalid" by returning officer Laura Aron, "based on my political affiliation with Demosisto," Wong said, in reference to the political party he formed along with former student leaders of the 2014 Occupy Central movement for fully democratic elections.
Wong's manifesto for the 2019 District Council Election had been based on the recognition that street protests weren't enough to bring about true democracy in Hong Kong.
"The problems we face on a community level go hand in hand with systematic problems that the whole of Hong Kong faces," Wong wrote in the online document. "The foundation of genuine democracy is a care and understanding of people’s daily needs."
'A chilling effect'
The Sept. 28 statement also speaks of the effects of Chinese government influence in Hong Kong since the anti-extradition movement escalated in early June, gripping the city with ongoing mass marches, human chains, clashes with riot police, and political vandalism.
Clashes left many of Hong Kong's neighborhoods frequently fighting off tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon wielded by police, as well as widespread arrests and allegations of police violence and sexual abuse in custody.
"A chilling effect has slowly spread to the workplace, schools, families and communities in the past few months," Wong wrote. "But in spite of that, many friends in this district still come out to show their defiance against an unaccountable government."
"Many Hongkongers still give their blood and sweat in defence of democratic values."
Wong's barring came as the U.K.'s Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) stripped pro-China lawmaker Junius Ho, who has referred to protesters as cockroaches, and who has been accused of collusion with brutal pro-China mob attacks on train passengers in Yuen Long district on July 21, of his honorary doctorate.
"ARU’s honorands must be positive role models to our students, alumni and staff, and to the communities we serve," the university said in a statement.
"Mr Ho’s conduct since he was honoured has caused increasing concern. Following an investigation, the university has withdrawn Mr Ho’s honorary degree," it said.
Ho was seen greeting a white-clothed group of assailants in widely circulated video clips from July 21, shaking their hands, and calling the suspected gangsters "heroes", giving them thumbs-up and saying to them "thank you for your hard work."
At least one of the white-clothed men who shook hands with Ho has been shown to have been inside Yuen Long Station during the attacks, social media footage indicated.
Another candidate disqualified
Wong's disqualification comes after his Demosisto colleague and fellow 2014 student protest leader Agnes Chow 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 won her appeal in Hong Kong's High Court last month.
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.
Reported by Lau Siu-fung and Man Hoi-tsan for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.