Hong Kong independence activists try to stop removal from legislature

Youngspiration ‘localists’ barred after controversy during swearing-in ceremony

Two pro-independence politicians in Hong Kong will apply for a court order to stop the government from removing them from the territory's legislature, after a judge barred them for "declining" to take the oath during a swearing-in last month.

Yau Wai-ching (25) and Sixtus "Baggio" Leung (30) are both members of the Youngspiration "localist" group which advocates independence for Hong Kong from China. They were among a group of young activists who won seats in the legislative council on platforms seeking independence or greater autonomy for Hong Kong.

Ms Yau and Mr Leung caused a ruckus during the swearing-in ceremony for the territory's legislative council (LegCo) on October 12th. They waved banners saying "Hong Kong is not China" and also used a derogatory word for China that has connotations from the territory's wartime occupation by Japan.

“The judgment simply reflects that elections in Hong Kong are meaningless and the results of which have been easily overturned by the government. Our duty is to guard the civilisation and the well-established system in Hong Kong,” Mr Leung told local media.

Basic Law

Since Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, Beijing has been required to honour a charter called the Basic Law, which guarantees the city a high degree of autonomy for 50 years, including an independent legal system and the right to elect its own legislative council.

However, in recent years there have been signs of China pushing back on the freedoms granted to Hong Kong. Five booksellers were apparently abducted by Chinese security forces as part of an investigation into controversial books they were publishing about Chinese leaders.

And Beijing’s patience has been tested further by the “Umbrella protests” by pro-democracy activists in 2014 and the emergence of a movement calling for more autonomy for Hong Kong.

Last week, the central government weighed in. The standing committee of the National People's Congress in Beijing issued an interpretation of the Basic law in relation to actions of the young lawmakers, saying they were required to take their oaths "sincerely, correctly and solemnly " or else they must be disqualified.

Critics have said the Chinese central government interpretation was tantamount to adjudicating in the case itself, and there were riots on the streets over the Beijing interpretation.

Legal complaints

However, high court judge Thomas Au insisted in a 56-page ruling on the case this week that the Beijing reading had no impact on his decision.

Recent actions by the localist movement are unprecedented in Hong Kong and the territory is awash with legal complaints against lawmakers from across the political spectrum over interpretations of the Basic Law.

Meanwhile, the territory’s electoral affairs commission is preparing a byelection to fill the two legislators’ seats, although it is unclear if the two can sit again.

As well as Mr Leung and Ms Yau, there are at least four lawmakers in the 70-member LegCo who support various degrees of greater autonomy for Hong Kong.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

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