Hong Kong Bans Freedom Activist Joshua Wong from Running for Office

Hong Kong pro-democracy student leader Joshua Wong, center, listens to speakers during a democracy forum in Taipei, Taiwan, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016. Taiwan will hold its presidential elections on Jan. 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
Chiang Ying-ying/AP Photo

Hong Kong election officials banned freedom activist Joshua Wong from running in a local district council election on Monday after refusing to meet his demands for a definitive answer on his potential candidacy in the November 24 city-wide elections.

Wong, secretary-general of the pro-democracy group Demosisto, denounced the ban as a direct order from the Communist Party in Beijing, which fears the rise of young anti-authoritarians in public office. The oft-arrested pro-democracy activist, 23, condemned the Hong Kong government for denying his supporters the right to vote for him and vowed to continue trying to become involved in government affairs.

Wong rose to prominence during the 2014 Umbrella Movement against Beijing when he was 18 years old. He was serving a month-long prison sentence for his role in galvanizing the public against China’s increasingly blatant attempts to impose communist law on Hong Kong when the current protest movement erupted in June. He has been arrested at least twice since his release for his participation in pro-democracy protests.

The Hong Kong government delayed a decision on Wong’s candidate for over a week, making his the last campaign to know if its candidate would be on the ballot and the only candidacy officials rejected. Election Affairs Commission official Dorothy Ma, initially in charge of approving or rejecting Wong’s candidacy, abruptly took indefinite “sick leave” last week, leaving Wong in limbo.

Her replacement, Laura Aron, handed down her ruling against Wong on Monday – an unprecedented rejection of a district council candidate, according to local media.

Aron ruled that Wong was not sufficiently clear in his rejection of independence for Hong Kong and that his organization, Demosisto, advocated for “self-determination,” a disqualifying political belief.

“It is questionable whether Mr. Wong accepts the People’s Republic of China’s sovereignty over the HKSAR [Hong Kong Special Administrative Region] and whether he is of the view that independence and referendum would be options for Hong Kong,” Wong’s official rejection read, according to text provided by the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP).

“According to the information published by Demosisto at its website, Demosisto adopts ‘democratic self-determination’ as its ‘cardinal objective,'” the ruling read. Wong, it continued, had allegedly stated that, if the people of Hong Kong were to choose independence, they had the right to demand a government of their choice.

“It can be understood as suggesting that whether independence could be an option for Hong Kong people is contingent upon the public opinion in Hong Kong, which is plainly inconsistent with the BL [Basic Law],” the ruling read.

The Basic Law governs Hong Kong’s relationship with China. Its policy, known commonly as “One Country, Two Systems,” grants China sovereignty over Hong Kong on the condition that it cannot impose communist laws on the city. Hong Kong’s China-controlled government uses the Basic Law to ban candidates from running for office who support Hong Kong’s separation from China.

The election commission’s rejection of Wong’s candidacy suggests not that Wong explicitly supports independence, but that he does not oppose it enthusiastically enough, noting that, when asked if he did, Wong quoted Chinese dictator Xi Jinping threatening Hong Kong residents not to openly support it, which the council deemed an insincere answer to the question.

In a statement on Twitter, Wong condemned the election commission for removing him from the ballot and taking orders from Beijing, a violation of “One Country, Two Systems.”

“The decision to ban me from running office [sic] is clearly politically-driven,” Wong wrote. “The so-called ‘reasons’ is judging subjectively on my intention to uphold Basic Law. But everyone would know that the true reason is my identity, Joshua Wong, is the crime in their mind.”

“I wish to emphasize that, since the former RO Mrs Dorothy Ma’s disappearance in [sic] last week, it had become clear that Beijing exerted extremely strong pressure on HK gov’t officials who are responsible for deciding my candidacy,” his statement continued. “Political censorship is an inconvenient truth that even political neutrality is lost. I wish to apologise to my constituents if I have failed their expectation — to serve the residents as a councillor. But I affirm that, I still believe that democracy begins from the ground.”

“In the future, I’m not giving up my advocacy just because Beijing doesn’t like me to do so. I’m grateful to my teammate, Kelvin Lam, who bravely takes up this daunting task at this very moment, to run for office. I appeal to all voters in my district, to support Kelvin,” he concluded.

Wong also appeared at a press conference with his replacement on the ballot, Kelvin Lam, and reiterated his belief that the government banned him from running for office out of fear in Beijing that he would actually win.

“The returning officer has repeatedly twisted and misunderstood my political views, it shows that Beijing has given a strict order to disqualify me,” he said. “The only reason for my disqualification is that my name is Joshua Wong.”

Wong added a call to the international community to support the pro-freedom movement in Hong Kong, and in particular a call to the American Congress to pass the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act which, among other things, would protect protesters like Wong in the event that China uses their “criminal” record to keep them out of America.

Wong testified before Congress in September urging lawmakers to pass the act.

“The present state of affairs reveals Beijing’s utter inability to understand, let alone govern, a free society,” he told Congress. “The stakes have never been higher.”

The HKFP noted that, while Wong spoke, a small gang of pro-China belligerents attempted to interrupt him by chanting “Han traitor! Shut up!”, a reference to Wong’s ethnic identity.

The Global Times, a Chinese government propaganda outlet, reported the news of his disqualification by branding him a criminal, responsible for “inciting others to participate in unapproved assemblies and violently besieging police headquarters in June.” The June 21 protest in question, in which protesters surrounded a police station demanding freedom for those arrested for expressing themselves freely, was largely peaceful with the exception of police attacks on protesters.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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