For Hong Kong’s democracy movement, China’s intervention is a challenge to freedom of expression and judicial independence
The Associated Press
November 7, 2016
China’s top legislature has adopted an interpretation of an article in Hong Kong’s mini-constitution on oath-taking, effectively intervening in a political dispute in the southern Chinese city despite protests there on Sunday.
The dispute centers on a provocative display of anti-China sentiment by two newly elected pro-independence Hong Kong lawmakers at their swearing-in ceremony last month.
In issuing the interpretation, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee said talk of independence for Hong Kong is intended to “divide the country” and severely harms the country’s unity, territorial sovereignty and national security.
The interpretation says that those who advocate for independence for Hong Kong are not only disqualified from election and from assuming posts as lawmakers but should also be investigated for their legal obligations.
Beijing ruling bars Hong Kong lawmakers from taking office
Yau Wai-ching (left) and Sixtus Leung (right) have refused to pledge allegiance to Beijing. EPA
Beijing has intervened in Hong Kong politics to block two elected lawmakers from taking office.
Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching, who are pro-independence, have refused to pledge allegiance to Beijing when being sworn in.
Beijing has now interpreted a section of Hong Kong law to mean any official who does not swear the oath properly cannot take office, said state media.
The move comes after weeks of chaos in the Hong Kong legislature.
Hong Kong police used pepper spray on protesters on Sunday. AFP/GETTY IMAGES
There were also protests, and some scuffles, in Hong Kong on Sunday night, with at least four arrests.
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive CY Leung has said his government will “fully implement” the ruling.
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The interpretation by Beijing’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), marks Beijing’s most far-reaching intervention in Hong Kong since it was handed back by the UK in 1997.
China is acting within its rights under Hong Kong law, but many in Hong Kong accuse it of ruling by decree.
The BBC’s Helier Cheung in Hong Kong says the move is likely to further anger pro-independence supporters and may prompt further protests.
Beijing’s bigger picture – Carrie Gracie, BBC News, China editor
Ms Yau had unfurled a banner saying”Hong Kong is not China” during one of her oath-taking attempts. Reuters
For Hong Kong’s democracy movement, China’s intervention is a challenge to freedom of expression and judicial independence, but for Beijing the bigger picture is paramount.
All talk of independence is seen as threatening and elsewhere in China, separatism is a crime and campaigning for independence results in a lengthy jail term.
To allow elected members of Hong Kong’s legislature to use such a high profile public platform to insult China and talk of a Hong Kong nation was unthinkable.
Hong Kong’s courts do still uphold the freedoms promised when Britain handed the territory back to China nearly two decades ago.
But today’s intervention from Beijing is a reminder that China is determined to decide the limits of those freedoms.
The question for Hong Kong’s young democracy activists now is where to take their defiance next.
Mr Leung and Ms Yau belong to the Youngspiration party, which sprang from the Occupy Central pro-democracy protests of 2014. They have called for Hong Kong to break away from China entirely.
They were elected in September, and have attempted to take their oaths several times, but each time have provocatively changed the wording. Their attempts included using a variation of a derogatory word for China, and displaying a pro-independence banner.
Their oaths were invalidated amid chaotic scenes in the Legislative Council (LegCo).
The interpretation of Hong Kong’s Basic Law states that lawmakers taking their oaths must do so “sincerely and solemnly”. They must “accurately, completely and solemnly” read out the portion of the oath that swears allegiance to Beijing, it said.
Failure to do so would disqualify the lawmaker from taking office.
A spokesman for Beijing’s state council was quoted by Xinhua as saying this interpretation was “absolutely necessary”, and “safeguards” the authority of Hong Kong’s constitution and rule of law.
It “complies with the common aspiration of the entire Chinese people, including the compatriots in Hong Kong,” said the spokesman.
Tags: Basic Law, China, disqualified from election, Hong Kong, Hong Kong's Basic Law, Hong Kong’s chief executive CY Leung, Legco, Legislative Council, oath-taking, pro-independence, should also be investigated for their legal obligations, Sixtus Leung,, Yau Wai-ching, Youngspiration