Hong Kong Legal Challenge Targets Eight Pro-Democracy Lawmakers

The city's High Court has been asked to disqualify the members of its Legislative Council following a ruling from Beijing on oaths.

Newly elected lawmaker Sixtus Leung (C) is restrained by security after attempting to read out his Legislative Council oath at Legco in Hong Kong on Nov. 2, 2016.

Moves are afoot in Hong Kong to bar eight pro-democracy lawmakers from the city's legislature after Beijing intervened in a row over protest oaths during last month's swearing-in ceremony.

The legal challenge has been launched after the ruling Chinese Communist Party's top-level parliamentary body issued an interpretation of Hong Kong's miniconstitution that said oaths not solemnly and sincerely taken would result in the loss of public office.

It requests that the High Court disqualify the eight newly elected members of the Legislative Council (LegCo).

An ongoing political row had previously focused on the status of two pro-independence lawmakers, Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching, who vowed allegiance to the "Hong Kong Nation" and carried banners saying "Hong Kong is not China" when making their oaths on Oct. 12.

The standing committee of China's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), issued an interpretation of Hong Kong's miniconstitution on Monday in response to the controversy over the pair's oaths.

"An oath taker who intentionally reads out words which do not accord with the wording of the oath prescribed by law, or takes the oath in a manner which is not sincere or not solemn, shall be treated as declining to take the oath," the interpretation said.

"The oath so taken is invalid and the oath taker is disqualified forthwith from assuming ... public office," it said.

Thousands of people took to the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday, clashing with police who fired pepper spray into the crowd, as a protest rally turned into a mass demonstration against Beijing's intervention in the city's political life.

Floodgates opened

Now, a review has been requested by Cheng Yuk-kai, a private individual who once chaired a local taxi-drivers' association.

At stake are the LegCo seats of long-time social activist and League of Social Democrats member Leung Kwok-hung, or "Long Hair," former student protest leader Nathan Law of the newly formed Demosisto party and Cheng Chung-tai of the group Civic Passion.

Oaths taken by Raymond Chan of the activist group People Power, land rights activist and record vote-winner Eddie Chu and Lau Siu-lai of Democracy Groundwork are also being questioned.

And LegCo members Edward Yiu and social welfare sector representative Shiu Ka-chun may also potentially face disqualification, as Cheng is asking the court to declare their oaths invalid.

All eight face losing their seats if the legal challenge is successful, though many remained defiant, saying the interpretation had "opened the floodgates" for a series of judicial reviews, which can be requested by any Hong Kong resident.

"It has become clear since the NPC interpretation that their conduct violated the requirements for a sincere oath," Cheng told reporters.

"It is not acceptable that they should be members of our legislature and work on our behalf."

He said talk of independence and self-determination for Hong Kong "cannot be allowed to influence the way Hong Kong is governed."

Eight types of 'insincere oaths'

The legal challenge came as two Chinese officials issued a list of eight types of "insincere oaths" to be deemed invalid under the ruling.

They include actions like adding words to the oaths, raising an umbrella in a reference to the 2014 pro-democracy movement, saying the words "People's Republic of China" with irony, slow-motion reading and chanting slogans like "democratic self-determination."

Turning the national flag upside down, hitting a tambourine and tearing up a previous interpretation from the NPC standing committee ruling out fully democratic elections for Hong Kong were also listed by retired former negotiator Chen Zuo'er and Wang Zhenmin, head of Beijing's legal department in its Hong Kong representative office.

But Eddie Chu told reporters the attempts to unseat him were a matter for "the whole society."

"This is political repression from Beijing [towards] the whole society, not only me," Chu said.

"I don’t think I have broken any law. The mandate and the votes I got in the election is the foundation of me being a legislator," he added.

Meanwhile, Leung Kwok-hung said he believes the Basic Law interpretation will "open the floodgates" for more judicial reviews.

He said the judicial review was an attempt on the part of the administration of chief executive Leung Chun-ying to weaken opposition to the government in LegCo.

Pan-democratic lawmakers held onto 19 seats overall in the 70-seat council in September's elections, retaining a crucial veto, as any changes to the political system of Hong Kong must win the support of two-thirds of lawmakers to pass.

In the past, pan-democrats have succeeded in blocking unpopular national security legislation as well as electoral reforms slated as "fake universal suffrage" by the 2014 Occupy Central movement.

They have also been able to vote down proposals to change the council's Rules of Procedure to prevent filibusters, a key tactic in the minority bloc's political arsenal.

The majority of LegCo seats are held by pro-establishment figures loyal to the executive and to Beijing, however.

Many of those were returned by professional and trade bodies comprising just six percent of the city's pool of five million registered voters.

Reported by Goh Fung for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.