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Hong Kong bar association says poll delay may be 'unlawful'

August 3, 2020

The Hong Kong bar association expressed "grave concern" over the delay of elections that were to be held in September. It said invoking emergency legislation to postpone the vote could prove to be unlawful.

Pro-democracy activists Gwyneth Ho, Leung Hoi-ching, Tiffany Yuen and Joshua Wong campaign during primary elections in Hong Kong
Image: Getty Images/AFP/I. Lawrence

The Hong Kong government's decision to postpone the Legislative Council elections that were scheduled to be held this year may be unlawful, the city's bar association said on Sunday.

The body of lawyers said there were "serious doubts about the legal and evidential basis of the government’s decision."

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Friday announced that she was invoking emergency powers to postpone the election planned for September 6, citing mounting concern over the coronavirus pandemic. She said the election would be held on September 5, 2021.

The Hong Kong leader asked the Chinese parliament to step in to resolve the vacuum created by the expiring mandate of the current Legislative Council.

Read more: Sieren's China: Tension rises between Washington and Beijing

The Hong Kong Bar Association (HKBA), in a statement on Sunday evening, said the city administration was "effectively inviting" Beijing to "override the relevant provisions" of its mini-constitution.

The HKBA quoted international experts who called on governments to not use the pandemic to suppress human rights.

The bar association also said the government "has failed to satisfactorily explain why the LegCo election was to be postponed for one year, instead of a shorter period of several weeks or months."

Read more: China criticizes Germany's suspension of extradition treaty with Hong Kong

The government's decision to delay the elections set off a political and legal controversy. Soon after the announcement, a group of 22 lawmakers issued a statement accusing the Hong Kong administration of using the outbreak as an excuse to postpone the vote.

September's election would have been the first since Beijing imposed a controversial national security law that critics believe would target pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong.

The election delay has also been criticized by foreign governments, including the US and Germany. While Washington condemned the postponement, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas announced the suspension of its extradition agreement with Hong Kong.