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Hong Kong pro-democracy legislators disqualified from parliament

Four lawmakers opposing Chinese rule are barred for modifying oaths during swearing-in ceremony, seen as an insult to Beijing

A Hong Kong court has disqualified four pro-democracy lawmakers for failing to sincerely take the oath of office, a huge blow to the city’s opposition.

The four lawmakers – Nathan Law, Lau Siu-lai, Edward Yiu and “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung – all modified their oaths of allegiance to China during a swearing-in ceremony in October 2016.

Their disqualifications mean the pro-democracy camp has lost its veto power over major legislation, one of the most powerful tools in a parliament stacked with pro-establishment legislators.

The verdict is sure to have a chilling effect on political speech among those agitating for greater democracy, discouraging open challenges to the Chinese government.

Law’s political party, Demosisto, condemned “the manifest interference of the Beijing government to cripple Hong Kong’s legislative power”.

“More than 180,000 voters had their voices silenced in the legislative body,” the party added. “It is more important than ever for Hong Kong to stay strong and firm against the autocracy.”

Thousands of supporters later gathered outside Hong Kong’s legislature, attending a hastily organised rally where pro-democracy MPs gave speeches.

“From today on we cannot continue with business as usual, we must fight!” said lawmaker Fernando Cheung, standing in solidarity with his disqualified colleagues.
“We cannot pretend this legislature is normal.”
Another MP encourage the crowd to return the same candidates in by elections that will eventually be held, although is no clear timeline who when the vacated seats will be filled.

Lily Ng, who came straight from work to the rally, was enraged that Nathan Law, the candidate she voted for, was now disqualified.
“Ordinary people don’t have a lot of power in Hong Kong, and now this most important right has been stolen from us,” she said. “What’s the point of elections if they are meaningless?”

“More than 180,000 voters had their voices silenced in the legislative body,” the party added. “It is more important than ever for Hong Kong to stay strong and firm against the autocracy.”

Thousands of supporters later gathered outside Hong Kong’s legislature, attending a hastily organised rally where pro-democracy MPs gave speeches.

“From today on we cannot continue with business as usual, we must fight!” said lawmaker Fernando Cheung, standing in solidarity with his disqualified colleagues.
“We cannot pretend this legislature is normal.”
Another MP encourage the crowd to return the same candidates in by elections that will eventually be held, although is no clear timeline who when the vacated seats will be filled.

Lily Ng, who came straight from work to the rally, was enraged that Nathan Law, the candidate she voted for, was now disqualified.
“Ordinary people don’t have a lot of power in Hong Kong, and now this most important right has been stolen from us,” she said. “What’s the point of elections if they are meaningless?”

Justice Thomas Au wrote in his judgment that Law’s comments before his oath showed his was insincere. He had prefaced his oath with a quote from Ghandi and a pledge to serve the Hong Kong people.

He added that Lau’s slow-motion reading of the oath – she paused for six seconds between each word, taking 10 minutes to read the 77-word declaration – would “lead a reasonable person to conclude that she did not intend to convey any meaning of the contents and pledges of the LegCo [legislative council] oath when reading it out.”

In barring “Long Hair” Leung – who held a yellow umbrella during his oath, a symbol of the city’s 2014 democracy protests – Au wrote: “The manner in which Mr Leung took the oath goes well outside an objective reasonable range of such requisite solemnity and sincerity.”

Yiu added words into the middle of his first attempt to take the oath, rendering it invalid in the eyes of the law, Au ruled.

The disqualifications come after two popularly elected pro-independence legislators were ejected in November. Their oaths, in which they pledged allegiance to the “Hong Kong nation” and used an expletive to refer to China, were ruled invalid and they were barred from taking their seats.

Lawmakers who are disqualified would have to be replaced in a byelection, which is supposed to occur within 21 days after all appeals are exhausted. That could take months as the cases will eventually be heard by Hong Kong’s highest court.

“It is a blow to the cause of democracy in Hong Kong, but not a devastating one,” said Suzanne Pepper, a fellow at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and author of Keeping Democracy at Bay: Hong Kong and the Challenge of Chinese Political Reform. “If there’s a will, there’s a way, as long as everyone – activists, candidates, and voters – does not just give up the struggle.

“Future pro-democracy candidates will be scrupulous in all their messaging, and in their oath-taking, to avoid giving the authorities any excuse to disqualify,” Pepper added. “Candidates and voters will learn to do what they have already begun to do: read between the lines of the campaign materials and party manifestos and make choices accordingly.”

Mabel Au, director of Amnesty International Hong Kong, said the decision was the “latest damaging sign that expressing political opinions that challenge the status quo are no longer tolerated.”

Barring Yau and Sixtus Leung in November, the judge said the pair “manifestly refused … to solemnly, sincerely and truly bind themselves” to Hong Kong’s laws, citing statements the judge said showed they made “a wilful and deliberate attempt … to insult China”.

Source: The Guardian 

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