HONG KONG: Four pro-democracy lawmakers were disqualified from Hong Kong’s parliament Friday (Jul 14) in a move that will worsen growing fears the semi-autonomous city’s freedoms are under serious threat from Beijing.
The judgement means that the balance of power in the partially elected legislature swings further to the pro-China camp as pro-democracy lawmakers lose the one third proportion of seats they need to block government bills.
Former Umbrella Movement protest leader Nathan Law was among the group barred by the High Court judgement in a case brought by the city’s Beijing-friendly government.
It sought to remove them from the legislature for changing their oaths of office to reflect their frustrations with Chinese authorities last year.
The judgement comes after Beijing issued a special interpretation of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, to insist that oaths be taken in a “sincere and solemn” manner.
The High Court said the interpretation was “binding” on all Hong Kong courts and that its decision to bar the four was not politically motivated.
“The word ‘solemn’ bears the commonly understood meaning of being dignified and formal,” the judgement said.
Concerns that China is squeezing Hong Kong have sparked calls by some activists for self-determination or even independence for the city which have angered Beijing.
The four legislators dismissed Friday were not staunchly pro-independence but two of them have advocated self-determination for Hong Kong.
Beijing’s interpretation of the constitution last November was prompted by a string of protests during the swearing in of lawmakers following citywide elections.
XI’S “RED LINE”
Two pro-independence legislators have already been disqualified by the High Court after they inserted expletives and draped themselves with “Hong Kong is not China” flags during their oath-taking.
The cases against them and the other four lawmakers were initiated under the previous administration, led by unpopular former chief executive Leung Chun-ying. He was succeeded by Carrie Lam on Jul 1, who is also seen as a puppet of Beijing by critics.
The oath of office requires lawmakers to repeatedly describe Hong Kong as a Special Administrative Region of China.
Law, who at 24 is the city’s youngest legislator, had quoted Gandhi before taking his oath of office, saying: “You will never imprison my mind”, and used intonation to make his oath sound like a question.
The judgement said Law “was objectively expressing a doubt on or disrespect of the status of the People’s Republic of China as Hong Kong’s legitimate sovereign country”.
Barred legislator and former protest leader Lau Siu-lai read her pledge at a snail’s pace, which the court said did not convey its proper meaning.
Veteran anti-China lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung, known as “Long Hair”, raised a yellow umbrella – a symbol of the democracy movement – during his pledge, which the court said did not reflect the “importance and seriousness” of the ceremony.
The fourth defendant, Edward Yiu, added lines to his oath, saying he would “fight for general universal suffrage”, which the court said rendered his oath invalid.
The judgement comes two weeks after Chinese President Xi Jinping warned that any challenge to Beijing’s control over Hong Kong crossed a “red line” when he visited the city to mark 20 years since it was handed back to China by Britain.
The handover agreement enshrined liberties unseen on the mainland, including freedom of speech and an independence judiciary, but Beijing has been accused of trampling the deal by interfering in a number of areas, from politics to education and media.