European Union leads chorus of disapproval over decision to bar Hong Kong democracy activist Agnes Chow from Legco by-election

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The European Union has warned that the barring of a pro-democracy activist from the city’s legislative by-election “risks diminishing Hong Kong’s international reputation as a free and open society”, while the city’s leader rejected suggestions that the decision was influenced by Beijing.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor defended the decision to invalidate Agnes Chow Ting’s candidacy for the March poll, a move which also drew fire from a British political group and a Hong Kong lawyers’ group.

Chow, 21, was seeking to contest the Hong Kong Island constituency seat vacated by Nathan Law Kwun-chung when he was disqualified last year for an improperly taken oath of office. But her candidacy was ruled invalid by a returning officer on the grounds that her party, Demosisto, had called for the city’s “self-determination”, rendering her ineligible under rules to curb independence advocacy.

The government announced and supported the decision.

In a statement issued on Monday, the EU’s European External Action Service said “the protection of civil and political rights in Hong Kong is an essential part of the implementation of the ‘one country, two systems’ principle”.

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The decision … risks diminishing Hong Kong’s international reputation as a free and open society

European External Action Service

“[It] risks diminishing Hong Kong’s international reputation as a free and open society.”

In another statement issued on Monday, British activist Benedict Rogers, chairman of concern group Hong Kong Watch, said: “Chow’s disqualification is yet another example of the erosion of freedom of expression and the political rights of Hong Kong people.”

On Tuesday Lam was asked if the disqualification would tarnish Hong Kong’s international image, and whether the government had come under pressure from Beijing to bar Chow.

“There are absolutely no grounds for that sort of accusation or allegation of pressure,” she said. “The returning officers in Hong Kong are acting in accordance with the law.” 

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Lam said residents could enjoy political rights, including the right to elect and to be elected, when they abide by the law.

“If some kinds of political ideology are clearly contravening the Basic Law or one country, two systems … they could not fit our legal requirements,” she said.

Also on Tuesday, the Progressive Lawyers’ Group, made up of barristers, solicitors and law students, expressed its “enormous disappointment” at the government’s support for the returning officer’s decision to invalidate Chow’s nomination.

The group said the decision “not only unjustly deprived a candidate of the constitutional right to stand for election”, but “also unfairly restricted the Hong Kong public’s right to vote for their preferred candidate”.

It said it was “gravely concerned by the capricious use of electoral regulations”.

The Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau has not replied to a request for comment.

Additional reporting by Su Xinqi

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