Committee member Maria Tam claims no Hong Kong official requested the move while Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching denounce it
BySouth China Morning Post
A Basic Law Committee member has confirmed that the leaders of the nation’s top legislative body are taking the initiative to intervene in the Legislative Council oath-taking controversy that has landed in a Hong Kong court.
In Beijing on Friday morning, Maria Tam Wai-chu said the committee had received a letter from Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the National People’s Congress, who said Basic Law Article 104 would be interpreted and that committee members’ views would be sought.
Tam said the letter asked for “our opinion on an interpretation of Article 104”.
“We have started our work, and the meetings haven’t finished,” she added. “This was not the Hong Kong government or the chief executive requesting an interpretation. It is the chairmen that demanded it.”
It is the chairmen that demanded it
Specifically, the request came from Zhang and the NPC’s vice-chairmen and the matter was deemed important as it “involved national unity and territorial integrity,” she said.
In a statement midday Friday, a Hong Kong government spokesman said it had been notified by the central government on Thursday evening that an item relating to interpreting Article 104 of the Basic Law had been put on the agenda of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee.
The spokesman said local officials received the notification after the conclusion of the Hong Kong court hearing on Thursday on the oath-taking controversy.
The Department of Justice had informed the court of the central government’s notification, the spokesman added.
Article 104 of the Basic Law stipulates lawmakers must, in taking their oaths, swear to uphold the Basic Law and swear allegiance to Hong Kong as part of the People’s Republic of China in accordance with the law.
The local court case is a judicial review mounted by the Hong Kong government to disqualify Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching, both localist lawmakers. The two used derogatory language to insult China during their oath-taking last month.
Tam said the interpretation would have an impact on oath-taking in Hong Kong’s legislature in future.
But she demurred when asked whether Beijing’s interpretation would have an impact on the Hong Kong court case.
“It’s a balance of different considerations,” she said. “I don’t think the ruling will stand in the way of Hong Kong’s rule of law.”
“It won’t because it fits the criteria in Article 158,” she continued. “It involves a provision regarding the central and local governments’ relationship, and it would affect the court’s ruling … So whether to interpret it earlier or later, it is a matter of weighing between the heavier and lighter, not a matter of destroying the rule of law.”
The Hong Kong court has yet to deliver its judgment on the case after retiring from a full-day hearing on Thursday.
Tam declined to reveal what advice her committee had given to the nation’s top legislative body.
The NPCSC’s eight-day session ends on Monday, and Tam said there “could be more discussion” about the interpretation among other NPC deputies, standing committee members, the chairman and vice-chairmen on Saturday and Sunday before a vote takes place on Monday.
Those in power are now twisting the Basic Law to suppress [us]
Tam added that she had yet to be told whether Basic Law Committee chairman Li Fi would visit Hong Kong to explain the interpretation.
Meanwhile, the duo at the heart of the controversy denounced the news.
Baggio Leung said the interpretation would “bring a lethal road to the rule of law and the Hong Kong judicial system”.
“CY Leung and Zhang Dejiang are traitors to Hong Kong,” he said of the chief executive and NPC chairman. “We, the Hong Kong nation, must make them pay.”
The Youngspiration member said he and Yau would join protests in Hong Kong being organised by different groups over the weekend.
Asked if they had ever expected their versions of the oath would lead to Beijing’s intervention, Yau said the Communist Party had “its own timetable”.
“It has its own plan in tightening its grip over Hong Kong,” she said.
Neither localist regretted what they had done.
“I am a lawmaker elected by the people,” Yau said. “I said from the start I would pledge allegiance to the Hong Kong people. Those in power are now twisting the Basic Law to suppress [us]. In effect it is anti-democratic and silencing our voices.”
Separately, the lawmaker representing Hong Kong’s legal sector said a silent march was being organised for next Tuesday to protest the interpretation.
Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok warned the interpretation would deal a significant blow to the city’s rule of law.
“I want to tell the National People’s Congress Standing Committee that the Hong Kong court has already listened to the arguments and is writing the judgment,” he said. “There is absolutely no need to deliver its own ruling.”
Kwok expressed worries that the committee’s ruling would amount to “amending” and “twisting” Article 104 rather than interpreting it.
The lawyers are to march from the High Court in Admiralty to the Court of Final Appeal in Central.
The Civil Human Rights Front and pan-democratic lawmakers are planning to hold another march on Sunday.
Alan Hoo Hong-ching, chairman of the Hong Kong-based Basic Law Institute, said he expected Beijing to give a thorough interpretation of what “loyalty to the People’s Republic of China” means, rather than just tackling the oath-taking clauses of the Basic Law.
Speaking on an RTHK programme earlier Friday, the barrister said the oath-taking saga, as well as localist incidents dating to the Occupy movement of 2014, had alarmed Beijing.
“[An interpretation of the Basic Law] definitely has been on Beijing’s agenda for some time,” he said.
Hoo added that a possible action by the NPCSC would not only limit the oath-taking clause of the city’s mini-constitution but escalate it to a matter of “national sovereignty”.
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