Hong Kong’s decision to bar a 21-year-old activist from standing for election has been criticised by the European Union. According to Brussels, this is a violation of the international human rights treaty and could hurt the city’s reputation.

Maja Kocijancic, the EU spokeswoman for foreign affairs and security policy, said the government’s decision “risks diminishing Hong Kong’s international reputation as a free and open society”.

“The protection of civil and political rights in Hong Kong is an essential part of the implementation of the ‘One country, two systems’ principle, which the EU supports,” Kocijancic said in a statement.

“Barring candidates from standing for election because of their political beliefs is in contradiction with the right under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights… to stand for election without unreasonable restrictions.”

As reported by the Reuters news agency, Agnes Chow, a close ally of student protest leader Joshua Wong, was officially notified that she could not stand in a March legislature by-election because of her political party’s platform.

Meanwhile, at least 2,000 people in Hong Kong took to the streets to protest. International groups, such as Human Rights Watch and British non-government body Hong Kong Watch, also expressed concern.

On January 30, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam denied that she or Beijing had pressured her subordinates to bar Chow.

“This was done according to the law,” she said. “People are not, as some foreign organisations alleged, stripped of their right to stand for election because of their political affiliation.”