Authorities in Hong Kong on Wednesday refused to accept the oaths of three newly-elected lawmakers who deliberately changed the wording of their swearing-in statements in protest at Chinese rule in the former British colony.
Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching, newly elected members of the "localist" group Youngspiration, carried flags saying "Hong Kong is not China" into the chamber for their oaths, during which they referred to China by a historical slur, "Shina."
Using English, one of Hong Kong's official languages, both swore allegiance to the "Hong Kong Nation" rather than to the People's Republic of China.
Yau also referred to the "People's Re-F**king of Shina" three times during her oath, while independent lawmaker Edward Yiu added lines to his, vowing to safeguard procedural justice, fight for sustainable development, and demand true universal suffrage for Hong Kong.
The city's Legislative Council (LegCo) refused to accept the oaths of all three members and said they were ineligible to vote for the LegCo president.
But former student protest leader and newly elected LegCo member Nathan Law said there were no valid grounds for refusing to allow them to take up their seats.
Nathan Law, who heads the new-generation party Demosisto, took his oath correctly, before reading out a speech quoting Mahatma Gandhi.
"You can chain me, you can torture me, but you will never imprison my mind," Law told assembled officials.
Pan-democratic lawmakers then occupied the LegCo chamber in a bid to filibuster the vote for its president, which later returned pro-Beijing member Andrew Leung to the post.
A number of pan-democrats shouted slogans during their oath-taking, but didn't vary the words at their swearing-in.
Loyalty to Hong Kong people
Long-time social activist Leung Kwok-hung shouted "Down with the Aug. 31 directive!" referring to a 2014 Chinese parliamentary decree ruling out fully democratic elections in Hong Kong.
Land-rights activist Eddie Chu, who polled the largest-ever number of votes in LegCo elections last month, shouted out: "Democracy, freedom, and an end to brutal government!"
Sixtus Leung, who is also known by the nickname Baggio, told reporters afterwards that the oath should have included a statement of loyalty to the people of Hong Kong, which was promised a "high degree of autonomy" and the continuation of its traditional freedoms under the terms of the 1997 handover.
"It seems very strange to me that I, as an elected representative of the people, must be loyal to the People's Republic of China and to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the Basic Law, but not to the people of Hong Kong or the Hong Kong nation."
"That's why we wanted to add this in, to tell the people of Hong Kong that it is with them that our allegiance lies," he said.
"That was the message we wanted to send out."
Lawmaker Starry Lee, who chairs the pro-China Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), criticized the protest oaths.
"The DAB regrets that some lawmakers chose to use the swearing-in ceremony as a platform to air their political views," Lee told reporters. "This is a serious ceremony which shouldn't be used for political performance."
Jeffrey Lam, who represents the commercial sector in LegCo, said the protesters' version of their oaths was unacceptable.
"Some of the words they used were very offensive to Chinese people," Lam said. "It's not just as LegCo members that we find it unacceptable; we find it unacceptable as Chinese people, too."
'Poor accent' at fault?
But Yau blamed her "poor accent" in English.
"I think perhaps they are discriminating against me for my accent, because it's not very good, to be honest," she said. "They thought I was trying to insult them, but they are discriminating against me."
The Hong Kong government earlier warned that any lawmaker who changes the wording of the oath at swearing-in would lose their seat.
"If a member swears his or her oath in a manner or form that is inconsistent with the Oaths and Declarations Ordinance, the oath will offend Article 104 of the Basic Law and will therefore be unlawful and of no legal effect," government broadcaster RTHK quoted a government spokesman as saying.
The protests came as Britain expressed concern over the "integrity of Hong Kong's law enforcement" in the wake of the cross-border detentions of five booksellers, including U.K. national Lee Bo.
"I call for the universal application of due process, respecting the distinct nature of the two jurisdictions in all cases," Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson wrote in the Oct. 12 Foreign and Commonwealth Office's six-monthly report on Hong Kong.
Johnson said that academic freedom and freedom of expression had also "come under increasing pressure over the past two years."
Hong Kong's government responded by saying there was "no evidence" of cross-border law enforcement in the case of the booksellers, and that press freedom was alive and kicking in the city.
"We support that every endeavour should be made for journalists to report news professionally and accurately under the principle of editorial autonomy," it said.
"Foreign governments should not interfere in any form in the internal affairs of Hong Kong."
Reported by Lam Kwok-lap for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.