Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong denied chance to stand for election as he is below age 21

Hong Kong student leader Joshua Wong speaking to the media outside the Eastern Law Court in Hong Kong on June 7, 2016.
Hong Kong student leader Joshua Wong speaking to the media outside the Eastern Law Court in Hong Kong on June 7, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (AFP) - Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong was on Wednesday (June 22) denied the chance to stand for election after a court threw out his bid to lower the candidate age limit from 21, as fears mount over China's influence on the city.

The 19-year-old, who became the face of Hong Kong's "Umbrella Movement" for his role in the 2014 pro-democracy protests which brought parts of the city to a standstill, had expressed interest in running for office amid concerns Beijing is tightening its grip.

Residents of the semi-autonomous city can vote from the age of 18, but can only stand for election from 21 - something that Wong has said is unconstitutional.

A Hong Kong court on Wednesday said the issue should be dealt with by lawmakers.

"What should be the proper choice of the minimum age of candidature is obviously a matter of political judgment for the legislature, but not one for the court to make in the name of remedial interpretation," Judge Thomas Au said in his judgement.

He added that Wong's "grounds of challenge are not reasonably arguable with a realistic prospect of success".

Hong Kong was returned to China by Britain in 1997 and is ruled under a "one country, two systems" deal which allows it much greater liberties than seen on the mainland.

But tensions remain high amid fears Beijing's influence is increasing and freedoms are being eroded.

Wong is due to hear a verdict next month over his part in a protest that triggered the mass rallies at the end of 2014, which called for fully free leadership elections and saw nearly 1,000 people arrested.

He was acquitted earlier this month in another protest-related case.

Despite the rallies, the authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong have refused to budge on political reform, and Wong has since said activists must turn to longer-term strategies to bring about political change.

Some hardliners however are advocating a breakaway from China, with two political parties launched in recent months calling for independence.

Wong told reporters outside the court Wednesday that he "respects" the court decision.

"Although I cannot run in the elections this year...(I) hope that in September there will be lawmakers representing the voice of the youth in the new session of the Legislative Council to seek lowering the age limit from 21 to 18," he said.