Hong Kong Court Ousts Four Lawmakers, in Victory for ChinaDavid Tweed and Karen Lee
Judge finds opposition legislators took oaths improperly
Cases part of push to purge as many as 10 members from chamber
A Hong Kong court removed four opposition lawmakers elected last year, handing the China-backed government a victory in its efforts to quiet dissent in the former British colony.
The court found that four lawmakers, including veteran democracy activist “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, 61, and former student protest leader Nathan Law, 24, had improperly taken their oaths of office last October. Leung said all four would appeal.
While the ruling weakens the opposition’s ability to block legislation, it also risks reigniting tensions as Chief Executive Carrie Lam looks to move beyond the discord of her predecessor. The cases were part of a push by former leader Leung Chun-ying to purge as many as 10 “pro-democracy” legislators from the 70-seat Legislative Council.
The ruling comes less than two weeks after President Xi Jinping told Hong Kong during a visit to mark 20 years of Chinese rule that challenges to Beijing’s authority wouldn’t be tolerated.
“The ability of the government to forge unity in the chamber is going to be severely restricted at least for the short term while the appeals drag on,” Sonny Lo, a professor of political science at the University of Hong Kong, said before the ruling.“The perception that Beijing will use legal tools against dissenters is going to be reinforced.”
As a result of Friday’s ruling, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy parties have lost their 17-16 majority among the 33 so-called geographic constituencies in the chamber.
The pro-establishment camp can now push for a ban on practices such as filibustering that the opposition has used to stop or stall legislation. The pro-democracy side still has the power to block changes to the city’s Basic Law, which require a two-thirds majority.
A crowd of about 30 pro-Beijing demonstrators rejoiced on hearing the ruling and chanted slogans outside the court. The only obvious pro-democracy supporter was a man holding a yellow umbrella, a symbol of the 2014 pro-democracy protests.
Two pro-independence activists were ousted from the chamber in November after China’s National People’s Congress intervened during their hearings to clarify that officials were required to take their oaths “solemnly and sincerely.” They now await their final appeals.
The four lawmakers targeted Friday were attending a Finance Committee meeting at the Council when the ruling was handed down. At a press conference, Long Hair chanted, “Reverse the NPC interpretation! Give us genuine universal suffrage!”
The government is using the courts to “destroy the rule of law, to serve their political motives,” said Law, who was a leader of the 2014 Occupy Central protests. “Obviously, their political motive is to destroy the Legislative Council.”
None of the four involved in Friday’s rulings advocated independence from China. They did, however, either alter their oaths, add political comments or brandish props during the ceremony. Legislators Lau Siu-lai and Edward Yiu were also disqualified Friday.
The court said it was a constitutional and mandatory requirement that before taking office, all prospective Legislative Council members must “properly and validly” take the oath in the form and substance required by law. None had, it concluded.
Two more lawmakers face expulsion in a case brought by a Hong Kong citizen. Another pair face criminal charges over their roles in the Occupy Central protests that shut down several city streets in 2014.
— With assistance by Fion Li