Ousted Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmaker barred from by-election

Ousted Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmaker barred from by-election (AFP pic)

HONG KONG: An ousted Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmaker was Friday barred from trying to win back her seat because of her support for self-determination, in the latest blow to the city’s Democrats.

Lau Siu Lai — who was unseated from the legislative council in 2016 for failing to properly take her oath in protest at Beijing — was barred by electoral authorities from running in a by-election scheduled for November 25.

A document of reasoning submitted by the returning officer said that Lau’s advocacy of self-determination for Hong Kong entirely rejected Chinese rule over the semi-autonomous city.

Lau said she was not given the chance to make a representation or defend herself and said the returning office had used “institutional violence” to distort her views.

“Running in an election is our right, how can a government deprive us of it?” Lau told reporters late Friday.

A group of pro-democracy lawmakers at the press conference chanted “Shame on political censorship, shame on political persecution” in support of Lau.

The Hong Kong government said it supported the returning officer’s decision.

“If a person advocates or promotes self-determination or promotes that independence could be an option for Hong Kong, he or she cannot possibly uphold the Basic Law or fulfil his or her duties as a legislator,” it said in a statement.

Semi-autonomous Hong Kong enjoys freedoms unseen on the mainland, including freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of the press which are protected by a handover agreement between China and Britain.

But the space for dissent is shrinking as Beijing flexes its muscles.

Lau’s disqualification comes one week after the city’s immigration department refused to renew the visa of a senior Financial Times journalist who hosted a talk by an activist advocating Hong Kong’s independence from China.

Any talk of independence incenses Beijing as Chinese President Xi Jinping increasingly emphasises the importance of territorial integrity.

The Hong Kong National Party, which advocates independence and whose leader Andy Chan gave the talk, was banned in late September, with the government calling it a threat to national security.

It was the first ban on a political party since the territory reverted to Chinese control in 1997.

Earlier this year, young pro-democracy leader Agnes Chow was barred from standing in by-elections because her party advocates self-determination for Hong Kong.

In 2016 and 2017, the city’s courts had ousted six pro-democracy lawmakers, including Lau, for breaches in their swearing-in ceremony and in their oaths of allegiance, a move backed by Beijing. Two of ousted lawmakers advocated separatism from mainland China.