Authorities in Hong Kong on Friday removed a number of pro-democracy lawmakers from the city's legislature amid rowdy scenes, ahead of a key rule change that will leave pan-democrats less able to hold officials to account, critics said.
Land Justice League lawmaker Eddie Chu was physically carried from the Legislative Council (LegCo) chamber by security guards. He and several other deputies including Ray Chan of People Power, tied themselves to chairs in protest at the rule changes.
Chu had also unfurled a banner that read "Don’t be the National People’s Congress," a reference to Beijing's rubber-stamp parliament where deputies invariably vote with the government.
Democratic Party lawmaker Ted Hui was also removed after he locked a blaring personal alarm inside a drawer.
Pan-democrats tabled 10 resolutions in a bid to delay the rule changes, all of which were voted down.
Pro-Beijing lawmakers then passed sweeping changes to the LegCo rules that will limit the opposition's ability to use filibustering and delaying tactics to oppose the government, which has a majority in the chamber.
The new rules also require 35 members to support calls for select committees to probe the actions of government officials, rather than 20, as was previously the case.
Pro-Beijing and pro-government lawmakers currently hold 40 out of 70 seats in LegCo, and filibustering had been a key tactic in the arsenal of the pro-democracy caucus in the chamber.
Journalism professor To Yiu-ming, of Hong Kong's Baptist University, said LegCo had been "castrated" by the move.
"By putting paid to filibustering, the rule changes will castrate the legislature as a check to the powers of the executive authorities," To wrote in a commentary for RFA's Cantonese Service. "Once passed, the Legislative Council will become a rubber stamp of the regime."
'Tool of dictatorship'
The government's pushing through of a number of highly controversial infrastructure projects in recent years shows just how far it has strayed from public opinion, To wrote.
"The Legislative Council should strive for greater monitoring powers so as to safeguard the public interest," he said.
He said pre-1997 procedures were based on a consultative approach that respected all lawmakers' contributions.
"But the pro-establishment faction has been working hard to turn LegCo into the tool of a dictatorship," To wrote. "The new procedural rules will strengthen the chairman's control over meetings, and weaken the supervisory capacity of lawmakers ... the majority of whom represent a minority of people in society."
Democratic Party lawmaker James To described the rule changes as "humiliating."
"It is not just humiliating us," To told government broadcaster RTHK. "It is humiliating those who elected us into this council."
The rule changes come after six pan-democratic lawmakers were stripped of their seats by a Hong Kong court following a high-level intervention by the National People's Congress, which decreed that their oaths of allegiance were insufficiently "solemn and sincere" because they included protests and changed words.
Two lawmakers are still appealing, while the lost seats will be filled by by-elections on March 11.
President Xi Jinping on Friday praised Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam for making "a good start," during her visit to Beijing, adding that she been encouraging her officials to learn about the spirit of the 19th Party Congress, during which Xi's brand of political ideology was enshrined, alongside that of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, in the ruling Chinese Communist Party's constitution.
However, RTHK said Xi and Lam didn't discuss controversial national security laws that were shelved following mass protests in 2003.
Chinese officials are stepping up pressure on Hong Kong to pass draconian security laws that could leave its citizens open to accusations of subversion and sedition, warning that there will be "no room for debate" over the security legislation, required under Article 23 of the Basic Law.
Recent surveys indicate that some 40 percent of young people are open to the idea of independence for Hong Kong, but national security legislation must ban moves to "split national territory," which could leave its supporters open to criminal prosecution.
Reported by RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.