After Hong Kong's youngest would-be Legislative Council candidate was disqualified from running in the March by-election due to her party's political stance, Christian groups are joining the battle against the move with an online petition. On Jan. 27, Agnes Chow Ting, 21, was notified by the returning officer of the Electoral Affairs Commission that she would not be allowed to participate. The ban fueled accusations of growing political censorship in the former British colony, which was handed back to mainland China in 1997. Chow is a member of Demosisto, a pro-democracy
political party established in 2016 which calls for Hong Kong to be afforded self-determination. The Electoral Affairs Commission found this policy showed Chow was not loyal to Hong Kong's Special Administrative Region status under Beijing's Communist Party government. On Jan. 31, eight Christian group launched a joint online signature campaign to protest against her disqualification and by Feb. 2 thousands of signatures had been collected. The joint commission is composed of Hong Kong Christian Social Concern Fellowship, Hong Kong Catholic Commission for Labour Affairs, Christians for Hong Kong Society, Christian Classroom for Democracy, Christians to The World, Christian Street Fighters, Umbrella City Cyberchurch and Pastoral Care Group. The commission issued a joint statement on Jan. 31 with a headline that “We are Hongkongers — Christians protest against Agnes Chow for being disqualified through an abuse of the power." The statement said the government abused its power by arbitrarily depriving Chow of election rights and was wantonly dismantling the "reasonable high degree of autonomy" conferred on Hong Kong by "Basic Law." Chow, back when she was a student at the Holy Family Canossian College, was a spokesperson for protests against official attempts to allegedly "brainwash" Hong Kong
students. The mass demonstrations
forced officials to back down on the plan. The European Union has cautioned that the political ban imposed on Chow was not consistent with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and risked diminishing Hong Kong's international reputation. The EU noted that protections of the covenant were guaranteed under Hong Kong's Bill of Rights. Jackie Hung, an officer of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission of Hong Kong, told ucanews.com that stopping Chow from seeking election to the Legislative Council was not justified. Hung suggested that wider political discussion should be permitted even though the law, as it stands, does not allow for Hong Kong to become independent. "Freedom of expression is the most important part of human rights law, but nowadays the space for expression and discussion is stifled," she said. Hung noted that if Demosisto did not have an opportunity to influence Hong Kong's politics, its only option would be to take to the streets.
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Nathan Law Kwun-chun, 23, chairman of Demosisto and the youngest person elected to the Legislative Council, was disqualified in July 2017. He, along with three other elected lawmakers, were not allowed to take up their seats after inserting words into their official oath of office that were deemed to be offensive to mainland China. Hung warned that Hong Kong people would resist any attempts to further limit their freedoms. On Jan. 29, a joint statement was issued by all 30 members of the legal subsector of Hong Kong's 1,200-member Election Committee, an electoral college responsible for choosing Hong Kong's chief executive. The statement expressed concern over the political ban on Chow, adding that all permanent residents had the right to seek elected office. Benny Tai Yiu-ting, an associate professor of law at Hong Kong University, said the returning officer acted outside his legal powers in banning Chow as a candidate. Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Jan. 30 suggested there were fair grounds for the disqualification. However, she insisted that neither Hong Kong's secretary of justice nor herself had interfered in the decision-making process.