Joshua Wong

Joshua Wong seeks to change Hong Kong laws that ban former convicts from elections for five years

Under current law, a person is disqualified from being candidate for five years once he or she is sentenced to prison for longer than three months

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 November, 2017, 4:37pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 November, 2017, 11:08pm

Pro-democracy student leaders Joshua Wong Chi-fung and Ivan Lam Long-yin asked the High Court on Tuesday to review laws that bar them from running in elections for the next five years because of their jail terms.

Wong, 21, and Lam, 23, both members of the Demosisto party, were sentenced to prison in August for six and 13 months, respectively, over their roles in two separate protests in the lead up to Hong Kong’s Occupy movement in 2014.

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The pair were originally sentenced to community service but after the justice department ordered a sentencing review, the Court of Appeal sent them to jail – effectively stalling their budding political careers.

Under the Legislative Council Ordinance and the District Council Ordinance, a person is disqualified from being a candidate in elections for five years after he or she is sentenced to prison, whether suspended or not, for a term exceeding three months.

But Wong argued in a 53-page judicial review to the High Court that such laws not only restrict their right to stand for elections, but also limit voters from voting for candidates they favour.

He also said the restriction was particularly unfavourable to those given shorter jail terms because people who are sentenced to five years or more are immediately eligible to run once released from prison.

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“We are asking for the complete scrapping of this unreasonable regulation because it restricts political prisoners or political activists’ involvement or chance to run for office,” Wong said after filing his application.

“I believe relaxing this harsh election rule is a pressing matter, because it’s not just for myself or for Demosisto, but for the entire spectrum of democrats who are facing the same difficulty.”

This is the second time Wong has challenged the eligibility requirements to run for the election since he shot to fame for leading a successful fight against national education in local schools at the age of 15.

In 2015 Wong, then 18, asked the court to lower the minimum age for candidates from 21 to 18. But the High Court ruled against him and Wong sat out last September’s polls.

Wong is now old enough to run but is not eligible because of his recent jail term. He also cannot vote for his party chairman, former lawmaker Nathan Law Kwun-chung, who similarly had his community service order replaced by an eight-month jail term for his involvement in the same protest.

Wong and Law are out on bail as they appeal their prison sentences. Lam has yet to apply for bail.

Wong said that if his review succeeds, he hoped a person would immediately be eligible to run for office after serving their sentence, like in Australia and Canada.

But he sidestepped questions as to whether he will stand in the next Legislative Council election. “The 2020 election is still very far off for Demosisto,” he said.

Wong’s ultimate appeal will be heard at the Court of Final Appeal in January.