HONG KONG: Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong was barred Tuesday from standing in an upcoming local election, after months of huge and frequently violent protests in the city.
Wong, one of the most prominent figures in the otherwise leaderless and faceless movement, accused the government of "political screening" after an election officer ruled his nomination for the November poll invalid.
"I strongly condemn the government for conducting political screening and censorship, depriving me of my political rights," he said in a statement on his Facebook page.
In response to media enquiries, a government spokesman said Wong's nomination was declared invalid as he advocates "self-determination" for Hong Kong, which is inconsistent with the Basic Law, the city's mini-constitution.
"The candidate cannot possibly comply with the requirements of the relevant electoral laws," the spokesman added.
Hong Kong has been battered by nearly five months of pro-democracy protests which Beijing and its local leaders have taken a hard line against.
Millions have hit the streets, with hardcore activists clashing repeatedly with police, in the biggest challenge to China's rule since the city's handover from Britain in 1997.
Wong, 22, is one of the most well-known pro-democracy figures in Hong Kong today after becoming the poster child of the huge pro-democracy "Umbrella Movement" protests of 2014 that failed to win any concessions from Beijing.
Wong and his party, Demosisto, have denied supporting independence for the city.
Any talk of independence incenses Beijing as Chinese President Xi Jinping increasingly emphasises the importance of territorial integrity.
The government spokesman denied any political censorship in the decision to disqualify Wong.
"There is no question of any political censorship, restriction of the freedom of speech or deprivation of the right to stand for elections as alleged by some members of the community."
But the decision sparked criticism that it could intensify the ongoing protests.
"When you keep rigging the only -- and lowest level -- elections on offer, you're going to make many in #HongKong...conclude that the only way to be heard is on the streets," Maya Wang, Senior China Researcher for Human Rights Watch, said on Twitter.
Last year, Agnes Chow, another young pro-democracy leader from Wong's party, was barred from standing in by-elections because her party advocates self-determination for Hong Kong.
In 2016 and 2017, the city's courts ousted six pro-democracy lawmakers for breaches in their swearing-in ceremony and in their oaths of allegiance, a move backed by Beijing.
Two of the ousted lawmakers advocated separatism from mainland China.