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Hong Kong moves to crush opposition with sweeping candidate ban

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Candidates barred from seeking office because they do not support the newly instated national security laws include Joshua Wong and sitting lawmakers Alvin Yeung (pictured) and Dennis Kwok.

Hong Kong

HONG Kong authorities drew new red lines on the limits of dissent in the financial centre, barring a dozen activists including Joshua Wong from seeking office and arresting four others over social media posts.

The back-to-back actions came within a span of about 24 hours on Thursday - a sweeping gesture showing how much a national security law enacted last month had strengthened Beijing's hand. Both the Chinese and Hong Kong governments issued statements praising the disqualification of 12 opposition candidates, showing that mere opposition to the law drafted by Beijing was enough to prevent them from taking office.

"The entire pro-democracy movement now understands that there's no legitimate or effective channels of opposing the government," said Joseph Cheng, a retired political science professor and veteran democracy activist. "Meanwhile, anger will certainly continue to accumulate, which makes governance difficult."

While Chinese authorities argue they are seeking stability after a historic wave of sometimes violent protests last year, activists and business groups have warned that the clampdown jeopardises the former British colony's future as a place where capital and ideas are exchanged freely. US President Donald Trump has already begun rolling back special treatment guaranteed to Hong Kong since the 1990s, after China agreed to preserve its "high degree of autonomy" until 2047.

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The twin blows shocked an opposition camp already reeling from local media reports that Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam planned to ask Beijing to postpone the Sept 6 Legislative Council election for a year, due to a sudden surge in Covid-19 cases. Democracy advocates had hoped to deliver a rebuke to China by winning an unprecedented majority in the legislature after a landslide victory in local elections in November.

The candidates were disqualified because their views made clear they did not "genuinely uphold" Hong Kong's Basic Law, the government said, in a statement that made clear opposition to the national security law was grounds for disqualification and suggested activists were being held accountable for words or actions before the law's enactment. The National People's Congress handed down the law criminalising subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces on June 30, after losing patience with the government's failure to pass a similar measure through the legislature.

The Hong Kong government pre-emptively disputed claims that the disqualifications infringed on constitutional protections of free speech. "There is no question of any political censorship, restriction of the freedom of speech or deprivation of the right to stand for elections as alleged by some members of the community," it said.

The returning officer who denied Mr Wong's candidacy cited his advocacy of foreign sanctions to support Hong Kong democracy movements. Other candidates barred included sitting lawmakers Alvin Yeung and Dennis Kwok.

The requirement that candidates support the national security law would rule out almost all of the city's pro-democracy bloc. About 56 per cent of residents oppose the legislation, compared with 34 per cent who support it, showed a Reuters/Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute poll released before the law's enactment.

"Today we are seeing the results of the relentless oppression that this regime is starting, not only just to take away the basic fundamental rights and freedoms that were once enjoyed by all Hong Kong people, but they also trying to drive fear and repression into our hearts," Mr Kwok told a news conference after his candidacy was rejected. BLOOMBERG

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