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It’s a ‘slippery slope’ to rewrite election rules based on recent political developments, say pro-democracy activists

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Hong Kong student activist Joshua Wong admitted on Monday that his party, Demosisto, had quietly removed from its mission statement suggestions that it rejected Chinese rule, but denied the change was made to help its candidate, Agnes Chow Ting, qualify to run in the Legislative Council by-elections.

However, the Electoral Affairs Commission over the weekend banned Chow from contesting the Hong Kong Island seat in the March 11 polls, noting that her party had called for self-determination for the city, rendering her ineligible under rules to curb independence advocacy.

On Monday, Wong accused the authorities of having shifting goalposts on eligibility and said this meant the chances of Demosisto taking part in future polls were slim.

He and fellow party leader Nathan Law Kwun-chung said the changes to the mission statement, made only on the Chinese version of the party’s website, were based on “minor shifts” after years of work and to make the statement more accessible to laypeople.

The changes were made after Chow submitted her candidacy on January 18.

The original Chinese version stated that Demosisto upheld “democratic self-determination” as its “highest doctrine”, opposed the Chinese Communist Party and called for a popular referendum to push for the city’s autonomy.

The updated version contains the phrase “democratic self-determination” but the other phrases were dropped.

Wong, on a radio programme, argued that the issue was not about whether the party had changed its doctrine but why the authorities were “vetting thoughts”.

“Even if we change our doctrine, the returning officer would still think we are not genuinely upholding the Basic Law,” he said, referring to the government official appointed to oversee the by-elections.

News that Chow’s nomination was ruled invalid drew criticism from opposition politicians and legal experts but Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor insisted it had been done by the book.

“Any suggestion of ‘Hong Kong independence’, ‘self-determination’, independence as a choice, or self-autonomy, is not in line with Basic Law requirements, and deviates from the important principle of ‘one country two systems’,” she said, referring to the city’s mini-constitution.

Agnes Chow’s disqualification does opposition a favour

As to why Law had been allowed to run for the Hong Kong Island seat in the 2016 Legco election, returning officer Anne Teng argued that each case must be considered on its own merits. She said she had taken into consideration recent developments such as Beijing’s interpretation of the mini-constitution that made improper oath-taking and failure to accept Hong Kong as an inalienable part of China punishable by disqualification.

That interpretation of the Basic Law by China’s top legislative body led to six pro-democracy lawmakers, including Law, losing their seats for failing to take their oaths of office properly.

Law on the same radio programme stressed that the party would continue to call for “self-determination”, but said it was a “slippery slope” to tighten election eligibility criteria based on new developments.

“Do we need to say we uphold the Article 23 [national security] legislation in future? And further later … do we need to say we respect and embrace the rule of Chinese Communist Party?” Law asked.

Since it could not enter the legislature, Demosisto would continue to be active in civil society and also alert the international community to their cause, Wong said.

At least 2,000 protest banning of pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow from Legco race

On a separate radio programme, a member of Lam’s cabinet, Ronny Tong Ka-wah, cheered Demosisto’s amendment to its political charter and said it was a sign that they were starting to understand political realities.

“You don’t have to give in to authoritarianism but you can do what you can within a legal framework to meet your political objectives,” he said.

“If you don’t accept [the system] I can’t imagine what you can do outside of armed rebellion or violence … and society would not accept this.”

Tong defended the returning officer’s decision and said it was based on fact and reference to Demosisto’s political stance, of which Chow, a party member, clearly subscribed to.

While the same laws had always existed, he conceded that recent political events had made officials follow them more carefully.

He gave the analogy of rampant illegal parking in Hong Kong, where many motorists did it even though they knew it was illegal. They would blame the government for a lack of parking spaces in the city.

“On the surface, it appears to be a reasonable excuse but when the illegal parking starts to affect traffic, police say ‘sorry, we now have to seriously enforce illegal parking laws and issue tickets without prior warning’,” he said.

Law’s rebuttal to that analogy was: “We are parking at where we are allowed to park. But someone was sent to redraw a line claiming it was a restricted area and even imposed a penalty on us.”

“We are deprived of basic human rights under Beijing’s order and the changing political restrictions,” he said.

Hong Kong delegate to China’s legislature vows to push local officials to enact national security legislation within five years

Tong was asked if the stricter interpretation of eligibility criteria for elections would also affect those who criticised controversial efforts to institute a national security law under Article 23 of the Basic Law. In 2003, the government was forced to scrap a plan to enact the legislation after half a million people took to the streets.

He said this was possible, adding: “If you are not someone who takes part in politics or engages in political commentary, you won’t reach a position where you can challenge or threaten the position of the Basic Law.

“But if this is the Legislative Council, which is part of the system, and you are advocating [the idea] that we do not have to follow Article 23, then it may considered a sign that one is not willing to uphold the Basic Law.”



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Agnes Chow’s disqualification does opposition a favour

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You would think the sky has fallen. There was feigned shock and outrage when Agnes Chow Ting of the radical localist group Demosisto was disqualified from running in the Legislative Council by-elections in March. Never mind the opposition had been talking about that possibility from day one when they put a complete novice in the running for a major Legco seat for Hong Kong Island.

The way things are going, you may be forgiven for thinking they were practically asking for it, or daring the government to do it. Chow, 21, who has no experience or special training in anything – she has never even held down a proper job – is nothing more than a photogenic tool for the opposition to discredit the government and the Legco voting system.

At least 2,000 protest banning of pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow from Legco race

So disqualifying Chow, 21, is nothing like the political earthquake the opposition claims it to be. The decision does not amount to banning Demosisto as a political party, as Chow has claimed, and is not the start of a slippery slope to banning other opposition parties from taking part in Legco elections, according to pan-democratic lawmaker Charles Mok. Politically, the decision actually does everyone a favour, including the opposition; it’s likely to have sealed a victory for Chow’s replacement.

Pro-independence advocates were barred from taking part in the 2016 Legco elections. Among them were Yeung Ke-cheong of the Democratic Progressive Party, Chan Ho-tin of the Hong Kong National Party and Edward Leung Tin-kei of Hong Kong Indigenous. Why should the opposition expect this time would be different for Chow? The conclusion must be that they didn’t.

Who is Au Nok-hin? Hong Kong pan-democrats’ next Legco by-election candidate, that’s who

The latest disqualification will enable the opposition camp to turn public opinion against the government, and gain both sympathy and protest votes in the March polls for backup pan-democrat candidate Au Nok-hin, who could never have run successfully under any other circumstances. That’s good for everyone.

Instead of a complete neophyte like Chow, at least Au, 30, has experience in public policy and human rights issues as a long-serving member of the Southern District Council and of the Civil Human Rights Front, and as a former member of the Democratic Party.

No grounds to ban any more Legco candidates, Hong Kong lawyers say after activist’s ban

This whole thing doesn’t look like Plan B for the opposition, but Plan A all along. Maybe I am making out the opposition to be cleverer than it usually is. But the situation is turning out to be a no-loss for them and a no-win for the government.



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No grounds to ban any more Legco candidates, Hong Kong lawyers say after activist’s ban

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Legal professionals, including a top adviser to Hong Kong’s leader, see no grounds for electoral authorities to ban any more candidates from running in the coming Legislative Council by-election after pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow Ting was disqualified from the race.

They also warned that Chow’s rejection would have far-reaching implications for political parties contesting seats in the city’s legislature.

Hours after they spoke on Sunday, at least 2,000 people rallied outside government headquarters at Tamar for a pro-democracy protest, warning against any further disqualification.

With the nomination period for the by-election set to end on Monday, the focus is on whether authorities will also ban Edward Yiu Chung-yim, the opposition pan-democrats’ candidate for the Kowloon West constituency, and Au Nok-hin, the candidate replacing Chow for the Hong Kong Island seat.

Democratic Party district councillor Ramon Yuen Hoi-man is expected to sign up on Monday as a backup candidate for Kowloon West, if Yiu’s candidacy is not confirmed by noon.

Chow’s nomination was ruled invalid on Saturday by a returning officer from the Electoral Affairs Commission on the grounds that her party, Demosisto, had called for “self-determination” for the city, rendering her ineligible under rules to curb independence advocacy.

At the RTHK’s City Forum on Sunday, Chow said her party “opposes and does not advocate Hong Kong’s independence” from China.

Yiu, one of six opposition lawmakers stripped of their Legislative Council seats earlier for improper oath-taking, was contacted on Friday by a returning officer who quizzed him on his position on “self-determination”, as well as details about his meeting last year with Taiwan’s pro-independence New Power Party.

Au’s candidacy is in the spotlight over an article he contributed to the “Discourse on Reforming Hong Kong” project by liberal academics and pro-democracy district councillors. In the article, Au urged all pan-democratic groups to join hands in defending Hong Kong as the city “goes through a long period of darkness”.

The project and a book it produced have been viewed by the pro-Beijing camp and a mainland scholar as showing pro-independence tendencies.

Au said he had never mentioned independence in the article, while former Bar Association chairman Ronny Tong Ka-wah, who sits on the chief executive’scouncil of advisers, said he could not see how Yiu and Au could be disqualified as their cases were different from Chow’s.

If your advocacies are going against the Basic Law, it will be difficult for your members to enter Legco

Ronny Tong, executive councillor

“From Yiu’s reply, it’s quite clear that he does uphold the Basic Law … I can’t see how the returning officer can reject that.”

Tong who was referring to the former legislator’s written response on Saturday that he “disagrees with Hong Kong independence”, added that Au should not be disqualified based on what he wrote.

As a member of Demosisto, Chow clearly indicated that she was representing the party, “but Au was not representing his party, he was only writing an academic article”, Tong said.

At the time Au was a member of the Democratic Party, which he quit last year.

University of Hong Kong principal law lecturer Eric Cheung Tat-ming cautioned that the city’s electoral system would become “arbitrary” if Yiu and Au were deprived of their right to stand for election on March 11 because of what they had done in the past.

“If that can be done, we don’t know where the line would be drawn … You can even question pro-establishment politicians over their meeting with Tsai Ing-wen,” Cheung said.

He was referring to the city’s biggest pro-Beijing party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, which led a delegation to Taiwan and met the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party’s chairwoman Tsai, now the island’s president.

If Au were disqualified as well, the pan-democratic camp would be absent from the by-election on Hong Kong Island.

Asked what Chow’s disqualification meant for opposition parties, Tong said:“If your advocacies are going against the Basic Law, it will be difficult for your members to enter Legco.”

Veteran China watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu said he believed that the Hong Kong government had been under pressure from Beijing to disqualify Chow.

“Beijing officials see Legco as part of Hong Kong’s establishment … They hope to draw a line for incumbent lawmakers, as well as those aspiring to be legislators, on what they can advocate,” Lau said.

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung insisted on Sunday that the returning officers were “politically neutral.”

“They have been doing their job in an unbiased manner,” Cheung said.

Additional reporting by Ng Kang-chung and Ernest Kao



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At least 2,000 protest banning of pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow from Legco race

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At least 2,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday to protest against the banning of pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow Ting from contesting the Legislative Council by-election in March.

The rally outside government headquarters in Admiralty was seen as an indicator of public outrage that might help win more votes for the opposition camp, but while some were not impressed by the turnout, organisers played down its significance.

Demosisto, Chow’s political party which led the rally, had no estimate of the turnout, but police put the number at about 2,000 at its peak.

The demonstration lasted about two hours as protesters packed the pavement outside government headquarters at Tamar, at one point spilling over onto Tim Mei Avenue and forcing police to close two northbound lanes to traffic.

Shouts of “anti-disqualification”, “anti-political persecution” and “support Chow Ting” rang in the air as opposition pan-democrat politicians took turns on the stage to address the protesters.

Demosisto chairman Nathan Law Kwun-chung, one of six opposition lawmakers ousted from the city’s legislature over improper oaths of office in 2016, said: “We did not count the number of people. It is not a numbers game. But you can see that many people are very angry about the government’s decision to disqualify Chow.”

The March 11 by-election is being held to fill four of the seats left vacant by the disqualified legislators.

Lau Siu-lai, one of the six ousted lawmakers, said: “For those who did not show up, it does not mean they do not support us. Many Hong Kong people may be so overwhelmed by the sad news about Agnes Chow’s disqualification that they could not come.”

She urged Hongkongers to “be brave” and face difficulties together.

No grounds to ban any more Legco candidates, Hong Kong lawyers say after activist’s ban

The pan-democrats are planning another protest outside the venue for a candidate briefing set for Thursday by the Electoral Affairs Commission on logistics for the by-election.

Political scientist Cheung Chor-yung, of City University, said of the turnout: “It was not as huge as it was thought it might be. I am a bit pessimistic about it exerting any pressure on the government.”

I am a bit pessimistic about it exerting any pressure on the government

Cheung Chor-yung, City University

Former Civic Party legislator and barrister Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee was emotional as she accused Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s administration of stripping Hongkongers of their right to run for public office and appealed for unity to “fight the battle”.

“We shall fight in society, we will fight in the court, we will fight in the international community. And we shall win, the rule of law will win, human rights will win, and Hong Kong people will win,” Ng told her audience.

Demosisto secretary general Joshua Wong Chi-fung accused the government of blocking young people’s voices in the legislature. “If we cannot enter Legco, it is to force us to be forever dissidents,” he said.

Sunday’s rally was originally aimed at showing support for 21-year-old Chow’s candidacy in the Hong Kong Island constituency, but she was informed on Saturday that she was disqualified on the grounds that her party advocated “self-determination” for Hong Kong, which the returning officer cited as proof that she could not meet requirements curbing independence advocacy.



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Who is Au Nok-hin? Hong Kong pan-democrats’ next Legco by-election candidate, that’s who

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Hardly considered a leading figure in Hong Kong’s pan-democratic camp, Au Nok-hin has suddenly entered the spotlight after offering his candidacy for the city’s legislative by-election on March 11.

The Southern district councillor submitted his nomination on Saturday as part of the political opposition’s backup plan for the hotly contested race after officials rejected Agnes Chow Ting of Demosisto on the grounds that her party called for local “self-determination” under Beijing’s rule.

The pan-democrats did not hold a so-called primary for the Hong Kong Island constituency, having originally calculated that Chow would have no problem getting her candidacy confirmed. For this reason, no contingency strategy previously existed, unlike for Kowloon West, where former lawmaker Edward Yiu Chung-yim was the camp’s choice but still facing uncertainty about being allowed to run given his ouster last year for an improper oath of office.

Hong Kong’s political opposition set to benefit from ‘sympathy votes’ after activist barred from by-election

If confirmed, Au’s candidacy could deal a significant blow to the pro-establishment camp. Judy Chan Ka-pui, of the New People’s Party, is comparatively much less experienced in politics than Au.

A Democratic Party member from 2009 until last year, Au, 30, quit the group “to pursue his own political beliefs”. He had been seen as one of its “young turks” and since 2011 has served as a Southern district councillor.

Veteran Democrat Lee Wing-tat described him in an interview with the Post in 2014 as “one of the few progressive members” of the party.

In Hong Kong, a “progressive” politician often refers to someone willing to use more radical means to bring issues to the fore.

Yet after leaving the Democratic Party, Au did not join any group advocating independence from Beijing.

He has also served as a convenor of the pan-democratic Civil Human Rights Front, the key organising group of the city’s annual July 1 march among other protests.

But it was reported Au’s “progressive” stance might give him trouble in securing his by-election candidacy. He contributed an article to the “Discourse on Reforming Hong Kong” project, co-founded by Education University political scientist Brian Fong Chi-hang. Many in the pro-establishment camp view it as espousing “self-determination”.

One of the project’s aims is to broaden “imaginations of Hong Kong’s future by drawing upon the case studies of autonomies” around the world, according to its website.

Au entered politics as a student at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where he majored in government and public administration. He was reportedly active in a campus radio station and served on the student union.

In 2012, he was the youngest candidate to contest the Democratic Party’s leadership election. He did not win.

In addition, Au joined Democrat James To Kun-sun’s territory-wide “super seat” ticket in the 2012 Legislative Council elections, but he was unsuccessful. In the 2016 Legislative Council elections, he ran to represent the wholesale and retail constituency. He lost that race too.



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Weibo falls foul of China’s internet watchdog for failing to censor content

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Beijing’s internet regulator has shut down some of the most popular sections of Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter, saying the social media platform had failed in its duty to censor content.

In the latest move to tighten control of online information, the Beijing office of the Cyberspace Administration of China summoned a Weibo executive on Saturday, complaining of its “serious” problems including not censoring “vulgar and pornographic” content.

Other problems on Weibo included allowing posts that discriminated against ethnic minorities and content that was not in line with what it deemed appropriate social values, the internet watchdog said in a statement.

Weibo said it had since shut down a number of services, including its list of top searches, for a week.

BuzzFeed goes behind China’s Great Firewall in deal with Toutiao tech group Bytedance

China keeps a tight grip on the internet and blocks sites including Google, Facebook and Twitter and foreign news websites that might carry information that is critical of the Communist Party. It is also cracking down on VPNs, or virtual private networks, that are used to get around censorship.

Weibo, a home-grown social media network that is listed in the US, has in recent years shifted focus to less sensitive content such as social and entertainment news after Beijing silenced public policy debate on the platform, but it remains influential in China.

Celebrity news such as divorces involving movie stars Wang Baoqiang and Bai Baihe and pop singer Xue Zhiqian, or reports about singer Lu Han’s girlfriend, garner hundreds of thousands of comments and are widely circulated.

But the internet watchdog has decided to clamp down. “Sina Weibo has violated the relevant internet laws and regulations and spread illegal information. It has a serious problem in promoting the wrong values and has had an adverse influence on the internet environment,” the agency said.

It highlighted as problematic sections of the platform such as the hot topics ranking, most searched, most searched celebrities and most searched relationship topics, as well as its question-and-answer section.

Goodbye Skype. China’s internet censorship juggernaut rolls on without its former cyber tsar

The move comes weeks after state-run Ziguangge magazine, or “Tower of Purple Light”, was listed on Weibo’s top searches ranking under the hashtag “ZiguanggeGutterOil”.

Fans of Chinese rapper PG One were allegedly behind the hashtag, retaliating against the magazine’s criticism of the musician’s lyrics and lifestyle with mockery.

It was suggested that the monthly magazine’s title sounded like the name of a restaurant chain in Beijing, with a reference to “gutter oil” added – a term to describe recycled cooking oil. State media has alleged the fans paid to have the hashtag pushed up the trending list.

Chinese music fans fear rap latest to fall foul of government censors

Weibo users had a mixed reaction to the weeklong shutdown.

One user was apparently unfazed: “Always so much news of celebrities breaking up or starting new relationships. How boring!”

Another wrote: “What’s all the excitement about? Is it wrong for a company to use its resources for profit? Of course there are celebrities that have been occupying the top searches ranking, that contradict the ‘core values of socialism’, but there are many other topics that could draw the attention of the authorities.”

Weibo has also been ordered to conduct a thorough review and rectify its mistakes. An executive from the Nasdaq-listed company said the sections identified by the watchdog would be closed until February 3, according to the watchdog’s statement.

The shutdown is part of a sweeping campaign to clean up the internet by removing any content deemed harmful, including pornography, violence or anything that is politically sensitive.

All kinds of platforms – from websites, mobile apps, online forums and blogs, to microblogs, social networks, instant messaging services and live broadcasts – are on the radar of the administration.

Most recently, popular news aggregator Toutiao was shut down for 24 hours in December over alleged breaches of regulations and for spreading “pornographic and vulgar content” and it has since confirmed it is hiring 2,000 content reviewers.

Entertainment news and bloggers have also been targeted, with dozens of accounts closed on social media platforms including Tencent and Weibo to “proactively promote socialist core values and develop a healthy and positive atmosphere”.

The administration has shut down more than 13,000 websites in the last three years and summoned more than 2,200 website operators for talks, closing nearly 10 million user accounts over alleged breaches of the regulations.



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