At least 12 Hong Kong pro-democracy candidates have been disqualified from elections taking place in September.
Authorities said the candidates, who include high-profile activist Joshua Wong, failed to uphold the city’s mini-constitution and pledge allegiance to Hong Kong and Beijing.
Others who were disqualified include prominent activist Tiffany Yuen from the disbanded political organisation Demosisto, as well as incumbent Legislative Council member Dennis Kwok and three others from the pro-democracy Civic Party.
It marks a setback for the pro-democracy camp, which had aimed to win a majority of seats in the legislature this year. Earlier this month, an unofficial primary was held, with candidates like Mr Wong topping the polls.
Mr Wong said he was disqualified because he had described the city’s recently imposed national security law as draconian, which indicated he did not support the law and thus invalidated his candidacy.
“Clearly, Beijing shows a total disregard for the will of the Hongkongers, tramples upon the city’s last pillar of vanishing autonomy and attempts to keep Hong Kong’s legislature under its firm grip,” he said in a Facebook post on Thursday.
Mr Wong and many pro-democracy nominees had been asked to clarify their political stance earlier this week as their nominations were being reviewed.
Mr Kwok said the disqualification of pro-democracy nominees was a political decision that amounted to political screening.
“Today we are seeing the results of the relentless oppression that this regime is starting … to take away the basic fundamental rights and freedom that are once enjoyed by all Hong Kong people under the Basic Law,” Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, Mr Kwok said in a news conference.
“They also try to drive fear and oppression into our hearts and this, we must not let them succeed,” he said.
Other nominations were still being reviewed, the government said in a statement expressing support for the disqualifications.
“We do not rule out the possibility that more nominations would be invalidated,” it said.
Earlier, Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Lee Cheuk-yan rebuked a tough national security law that Beijing had imposed following last year’s massive protests calling for greater freedoms.
He criticised authorities for arresting four youths on suspicion of inciting secession via online posts.
Mr Lee said: “Hong Kong politics keeps changing. Now they are using the national security law against the young people … these young people are being charged just for the things they said.”
The four, aged between 16 to 21, were detained for announcing on social media that they had set up an organisation for Hong Kong independence.
An organisation called Studentlocalism – which had disbanded ahead of the national security law taking effect on June 30 – said in a Facebook post that four of its former members had been arrested on secession charges.
Mr Lee was speaking ahead of a court appearance with 14 other pro-democracy activists, including former Legislative Council member Martin Lee and media tycoon Jimmy Lai. The group was arrested in April over anti-government protests last year and was charged with participating and inciting others to take part in an unauthorised assembly.
Mr Lee said that the UN Human Rights Committee recently affirmed that the notification of an assembly is not a requirement, and that participation in an unnotified assembly should not be a criminal offence.
“It very clearly vindicates us, we are exercising our rights,” Mr Lee said.