Hong Kong authorities on Friday barred a former lawmaker from contesting an election next month given her past advocacy of greater autonomy for Hong Kong, in a decision critics called another instance of political and electoral suppression.
Lau Siu-lai of the Labour Party was elected a lawmaker in 2016 but later disqualified from office along with five other pro-democracy lawmakers for taking improper oaths of office. Lau, who is also a sociology lecturer, will not now be able to try to win back her seat in a by-election in November.
Hong Kong’s government was widely criticized at home and abroad a week ago for effectively expelling a British journalist for hosting a speech by an independence activist at a press club.
Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” principle, with the guarantee of a high degree of autonomy and freedoms, including freedom of the press, not enjoyed elsewhere in China.
Lau has advocated self-determination for Hong Kong, suggesting it should enjoy greater autonomy from China.
The government said in a statement Lau did not comply with electoral laws “since advocating or promoting self-determination” contravened a legal requirement that all candidates must uphold Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, which states that the city is an inalienable part of China.
Lau was also accused by an electoral officer of not accepting China’s sovereignty over the financial hub.
Lau was not given an opportunity to defend her candidacy with authorities before the decision.
A small group of pro-democracy lawmakers and activists protested outside government headquarters, holding up banners decrying the decision as “political suppression”.
Hong Kong authorities in January banned democracy activist Agnes Chow from contesting a separate by-election, fuelling fears of tightening political “red lines” by Beijing that could deny Hong Kong’s disaffected young people any political outlet beyond street protest.
Another pro-democracy candidate and former veteran lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan submitted his nomination on Friday for the by-election that is crucial for the city’s opposition to recapture their disqualified seats and veto bloc.
“The disqualification is dirty play on the part of the government. They’re trying to manipulate the whole election to benefit the whole pro-government camp,” Lee told Reuters.
“My objective is to win and I think we can win … because the people are outraged. They are trying to deprive people of their political rights so I think the people will support me.”