Young Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong said on Friday his "invalid and ridiculous" disqualification as a candidate in elections for the legislature would not stop the fight for democracy in the Chinese-ruled city.
The Hong Kong government on Thursday barred Wong and 11 other pro-democracy activists from the elections due in September, citing reasons including collusion with foreign forces, subversive intentions, opposition to a new security law and campaigning for a legislation-blocking majority.
The disqualifications were the most sweeping move yet on the city's electoral freedoms following Beijing's imposition of a security law last month which many Western nations say erodes citizens rights.
Wong, who China calls a "black hand" of foreign forces, said in a statement the security law was an "legal weapon used against dissidents".
"Barring me from running ... would not stop our cause for democracy," said Wong, 23, who became an international figure leading months-long protests in Hong Kong as a teenager in 2012 and 2014.
Beijing imposed the new law on the global financial hub to give police and new mainland Chinese security agents wide-ranging powers beyond the scrutiny of courts, in some cases, and set its freest city on a more authoritarian path.
Critics say it crushes rights and freedoms promised to the former British colony when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997, while supporters say it will restore stability after a year of often-violent anti-establishment protests.
Along with Wong, authorities disqualified some members of the Civic Party, a moderate, old-guard opposition group, and others who won an unofficial "primary" vote held by the opposition camp this month.
That independently organised vote saw a younger, more defiant generation of democrats taking over the helm of the opposition, but the Civic Party disqualifications signal Beijing is becoming less tolerant of even moderate voices.
Chances for an historic majority in the Legislative Council, or mini-parliament, for the opposition camp will take a further blow if the government decides to postpone the Sept. 6 vote, as expected, amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The government denied "political censorship, restriction of freedom of speech or deprivation of the right to stand for elections" and said there could be more disqualifications.
It said it was merely upholding the Basic Law, the city's mini-constitution, and the candidates' behaviour was inconsistent with it.
Britain said it was clear the candidates had been barred because of their political views. Hong Kong's last British governor Chris Patten called it an "outrageous political purge".