Occupy Central organisers have "a strong case" against the Companies Registry if they file a judicial review against its decision to reject their application to register as a limited company, legal experts say.
The opinion followed the recent revelation that the Companies Registry had rejected Occupy Central's application, made a year ago, to register a company named OCLP Limited, on the grounds that it had publicly declared a plan to launch "unlawful actions".
The "unlawful actions" referred to the civil disobedience movement's intention to rally people to block roads in Central if the government failed to come up with a satisfactory plan to implement universal suffrage for the 2017 chief executive election.
"The Companies Registry's decision is inappropriate," barrister Stephen Char Shik-ngor said. "Occupy Central would see a very high chance of winning the case if they were to file a judicial review against the decision."
Hong Kong practises common law, which presumes people charged with a criminal offence are innocent until proven guilty, Char said.
"This is Hong Kong's core value and the foundation of our rule of law," he said. "Occupy Central has not yet committed anything illegal … how could the Companies Registry make such an assumption and declare it an illegal organisation even before it breaches the law?"
A source familiar with the matter said the government had sought the Department of Justice's legal opinion before the Companies Registry rejected Occupy Central's application.
Civic Party lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a senior counsel, echoed Char's view.
"This is totally unreasonable," Tong said. "Occupy Central wants to set up a company merely for fundraising purposes, not to carry out any illegal action."
He said it was the courts' responsibility to judge whether Occupy Central's actions were legal, and that the rejection amounted to political suppression if the Companies Registry imposed its own assumptions.
Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, one of the movement's key advocates, said their failure to register as a company would not affect their fundraising work because they could still receive donations through the Democratic Development Network's account.
But the incident highlighted the serious issue that Hong Kong was no longer a free place because everything was now politically censored, Chu said.
The Companies Registry declined to comment on individual cases, but said that, in general, a company may be formed only for lawful purposes.