In a surprise move targeting independence advocates running in September’s Legislative Council elections, the government will require all candidates to declare their acceptance of Hong Kong as an inalienable part of China or face disqualification. Those who sign the declaration would be bound by it to the extent that they could face criminal sanctions if found to have lied. The move, announced on Thursday, drew instant criticism. While human rights groups condemned it as censorship of political thought, some pan-democrats also questioned its legality. The current system already requires Legco candidates to sign a declaration in the nomination form to uphold the Basic Law and pledge allegiance to Hong Kong. The new measure requires them to sign an additional form to confirm clear understanding of the mini-constitution, mainly concerning Hong Kong’s status as a special administrative region of China. The undertaking covers the sections of the Basic Law stipulating that Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China with a high degree of autonomy and there is no amendment that contravenes the nation’s established basic policies regarding the city. The new arrangement follows the rising tide of localism in Hong Kong, with some calling for self-determination and other extremists advocating Hong Kong’s exit from China. From Occupy to ballot box: new Scholarism party could end up clashing with old guard democrats in Legco elections Despite warnings from the Beijing and Hong Kong governments, some radical activists have vowed to push their ideas by competing for seats in the local legislature in September. A government spokesman said: “We take the view that advocating and promoting ‘independence of Hong Kong’ is contrary to the content of the declaration that the law requires a candidate to make ... rendering it questionable as to whether the concerned candidate is capable of being validly nominated, causing uncertainties to the solemn Legislative Council election and confusion to electors.” The spokesman said some measures were needed in order to make sure electors knew clearly each candidate’s platform and that the platform complied with the law. A spokesman for the Electoral Affairs Commission said: “In making the declaration, candidates must clearly understand the relevant context and legal consequences. Anyone making a false declaration in the nomination form is liable to criminal sanction. “The [commission] has prepared a confirmation form for the use of the returning officers in order that every candidate may confirm that in signing ... he or she has clearly understood the relevant articles of the Basic Law.” Hundreds turn out for rally in support of Hong Kong Indigenous candidate for Legco elections In the district council elections last year, the electoral office refused to accept the election platforms of a candidate, saying his call for independence was in breach of the Basic Law and ordering him to revise it or risk the office editing the statement itself. Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor director Law Yuk-kai criticised yesterday’s move as “censorship of political ideas” and a breach of “freedom of thought”. Independence advocate Edward Leung Tin-kei, who is considering running for Legco, said he had decided not to sign the form after consulting lawyers. “If I have to sign it in order to get my nomination accepted, I will seek a judicial review. I will still speak of my ideal at election forums because this is my freedom of thought.” Pro-Beijing lawmaker Starry Lee Wai-king said the new rule was reasonable because legislators would have to pledge allegiance to the Basic Law after being elected anyway.