By Elizabeth Cheung and Joyce Ng

But radical pan-democrats refuse to rule out legal challenge against controversial election requirement

Radical pan-democratic legislators seeking re-election have vowed to defy a change to election rules for the Legislative Council polls in September despite the risk of being disqualified.

The controversial change ­targeting independence ­advocates requires candidates to sign a declaration acknowledging China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong and allowing electoral ­officials to follow up on their compliance, but pan-democrats are up in arms against it.

They complained yesterday that the new rules amounted to political censorship, and planned to meet the chief of the city’s election watchdog over the ­matter on Tuesday. They will not sign the new declaration until their concerns are addressed.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying stressed that independence for Hong Kong was out of the question even after 2047, when the governing principle of “one country, two systems” expires.

The two-week nomination ­period begins today, and all ­candidates have to make the standard declaration to uphold the Basic Law and pledge allegiance to the city. But under the new rules imposed by the Electoral Affairs Commission, they will have to sign a second form agreeing to provide information if requested on their compliance. Refusal to sign could risk disqualification.

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen denied political censorship, and said candidates could submit their nominations without signing the new form, but that would be a factor in deciding whether to approve their ­candidacy.

People Power lawmaker ­Albert Chan Wai-yip and his pan-democratic colleagues demanded the commission clarify the consequences if a candidate ­refused to sign the new declaration. They would not rule out launching a judicial challenge.

Elsie Leung Oi-sie, vice-chairwoman of the Basic Law Committee under the national legislature, said the new measure only repeated the constitutional requirement for lawmakers to swear allegiance to Hong Kong.

“If you make an oath thinking it is meaningless and you do something later to break it, it would be a criminal offence,” she said.

Maria Tam warned candidates to “think about your stance clearly when you take the oath”. Photo: Dickson Lee

Maria Tam Wai-chu, a member of the same committee, warned candidates to “think about your stance clearly when you take the oath”.

Anyone who makes a false statement in an election-related document commits an offence and is subject to a maximum fine of HK$5,000 and six months in prison.

The Progressive Lawyers Group, a legal concern group, said: “We sincerely hope that the declaration is not used as the first step towards an illegal restriction of fundamental rights … such as that of standing for election and of free speech.”

Article originally appeared in South China Morning Post on 15 July 2016.