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Hong Kong Councilor: Beijing Manipulated Election

FILE - Supporters from different political groups urge people to vote for their candidates in the Legislative Council elections in Hong Kong, Sept. 3, 2016.

A pro-Beijing Liberal Party candidate who recently dropped out of Hong Kong's Legislative Council election alleged Wednesday that three mainlanders had made threats that forced him to quit.

Addressing a news conference in Hong Kong, Ken Chow Wing-kan, a longtime district councilor, said it was on August 24, the day before he suddenly suspended his campaign, that a friend invited him to a hotel in the nearby city of Shenzhen to discuss “important issues.”

Upon arriving, he was introduced to three men who claimed to work for Beijing. They asked him to drop out of the election in order to make way for a different pro-Beijing candidate in Chow's Yuen Long district.

When he refused, the three men immediately threatened him, saying his supporters would pay a heavy price, and that they would take actions against people close to him.

Key details revealed

When Chow doubted their ability to find and harm loved ones, they revealed enough specific details to convince him otherwise.

“I don't know how they knew, including people very close to my family circle, important friends who support me, their backgrounds, income sources, habits — they read them out one by one," he said, according to quotes in the Hong Kong Free Press. "I started to feel afraid.”

Describing the information about his contacts as "beyond the reach of all private investigators," Chow was confounded.

"Then they said, if [I] don't follow orders, they will take action immediately,” he added, explaining why he quickly acquiesced to their three primary demands to stop participating in election debates, suspend all election campaigns and leave Hong Kong until after the election.

The Beijing government had no immediate response to Chow's allegations.

According to a report by the South China Morning Post, "The Liberal Party expressed shock at Chow’s disclosure and ... urged the Independent Commission Against Corruption to investigate the case."

Followed in Britain

It was immediately after suspending his campaign that Chow left for Britain, where "CCTV is everywhere,” he said, because he considered it a safe perch from which to follow the election. It was while in Britain, however, that he said he was followed.

FILE - Legislative Council campaign banners are displayed on a street in Hong Kong, Aug. 17, 2016.
FILE - Legislative Council campaign banners are displayed on a street in Hong Kong, Aug. 17, 2016.

Chow returned to Hong Kong on September 5 and went to police to provide information and assist in an investigation of the threats.

Chow also said at Wednesday's news conference that pressure to quit the race had preceded the bizarre meeting in Shenzhen. On July 13, he said, a group of friends had urged him to drop out. Among those friends were two “authorities stationed in Hong Kong” — a likely reference to officials from the China Liaison Office in Hong Kong — who advised him he was “not blessed” to take a seat in the election.

Those same individuals, however, then said they might be able to help him with other long-term career objectives, as “there are a lot of positions in government.”

On July 17, two days before he submitted his nomination to run, another friend offered him more than $500,000 — roughly twice the estimated cost of waging a serious campaign in Hong Kong's legislative contests — in return for simply dropping out.

When asked on September 6 whether the trio that threatened him might have been associated with the China Liaison Office, Chow told reporters that the three men were above that office.

"The force behind is far stronger than [the liaison office,]" he said, refusing to reveal additional information about their identities for fear of causing more trouble.

Lesson for voters

Chow stressed that he hoped his story would make the people of Hong Kong realize the urgency with which civilians must safeguard their own voting freedoms, and that upcoming polls may be their last chance to defend the policy of “one country two systems,” a constitutional principle promised by the Chinese authorities when Hong Kong returned to China in 1997.

According to “one country two systems,” there is only one China, but Chinese regions such as Hong Kong and Macau could retain their own capitalist economic and political systems.

Asked why he did not immediately report to the threats to police, Chow said: “You know, this is outside their jurisdiction. No matter if it is the Electoral Affairs Commission, the police or the Independent Commission Against Corruption, they cannot handle things that happen outside of Hong Kong.

"The people involved were not from Hong Kong," he said.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Mandarin service.