Hong Kong court expels four pro-democracy parliamentarians

Legal move to oust lawmakers changes balance of power in legislature

The high court in Hong Kong has removed four elected pro-democracy parliamentarians from the city's legislature after invalidating their oaths of office, in what is seen as the latest setback for freedom in the territory.

The court's decision comes just two weeks after the installation of pro-Beijing chief executive Carrie Lam and the visit of China's president, Xi Jinping, to mark 20 years since the territory reverted from British to Chinese rule.

The four included Nathan Law, who became the youngest legislator in Hong Kong history when elected to the legislature aged 23; his colleagues in the Demosisto pro-democracy party Lau Siu-lai and Edward Yiu; and veteran democracy activist Leung "Long Hair" Kwok-hung.

The court said they had improperly taken their oaths of office last October after they made political statements during the ceremony at the Legislative Council.

Mr Leung waved a yellow umbrella, the symbol of the Occupy democracy protests in 2014, while Ms Lau read her speech out in slow motion and Mr Law pledged to serve the Hong Kong people and read a speech by Gandhi during his swearing-in.

Their disqualification shifts the balance of power in the Legislative Council away from the pro-democracy camp. None of the four involved in Friday's court rulings had called independence from China.

Hong Kong nation

Two other “localist” parliamentarians, Youngspiration’s Sixtus Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching, have already been disqualified for pledging allegiance to the “Hong Kong nation” during their oath-taking.

“More than 180,000 voters had their voices silenced in the legislative body. Demosisto condemns the manifest interference of the Beijing government to cripple Hong Kong’s legislative power,” Law’s party, Demosisto, stated.

All four will appeal, and their appeals will join a lengthening list of legal actions emerging from the row over the political status of Hong Kong.

While the former crown colony is guaranteed freedoms under the Basic Law constitution agreed as a basis for the handover, such as freedom of speech, China has rolled back some of Hong Kong’s autonomy in recent years.

The move could spark tensions so soon after Ms Lam’s arrival pledging to heal disunity in Hong Kong. The legal moves were introduced by Ms Lam’s predecessor, Leung Chun-ying, who was trying to clear pro-democracy forces from the 70-seat LegCo.

The atmosphere is decidedly muted in the democracy camp in Hong Kong since the handover anniversary events, where Mr Xi warned democracy advocates against crossing a “red line” and undermining Beijing’s authority.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing