Pan-Democrats Ejected From Hong Kong's Legislative Council Amid Checkpoint Debate

Five directly elected members of LegCo are taken away after protesting president's refusal to address a point of order during the second reading of a controversial bill.

The West Kowloon terminus of a high-speed rail link that will connect Hong Kong to the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou is under construction in Hong Kong, Dec. 28, 2017.

Authorities in Hong Kong removed five pro-democracy lawmakers from the city's Legislative Council (LegCo) as a heated debate involving mainland Chinese control of a high-speed rail checkpoint turned into impromptu protests.

Democratic Party LegCo members Lam Cheuk-ting and Andrew Wan were removed initially, followed by Roy Kwong, who had stood on a desk to protest decision on a point of order raised by the pan-democratic camp, but who was ignored by LegCo president Andrew Leung.

Pan-democrats Ted Hui and recently elected Democratic Party member Au Nok-hin were also removed as protests continued in the LegCo chamber.

Leung, whose role is similar to that of parliamentary speaker, defended his actions, saying he was acting according to the powers given to him.

"I don't have to answer questions accusing me of abuse of power, because my power is borne out of the Basic Law," Leung said, according to the Twitter account of Damon Pang, a reporter for government broadcaster RTHK.

"LegCo rules are there to fortify my power, but not to take away the constitutional power I have."

Pang also tweeted that the police had been called to "investigate" the refusal of some lawmakers to leave the chamber with security guards.

The bill's second reading passed on Wednesday by 41 votes to 20, with one abstention.

A recent rule change left the pan-democrats, who lost six seats following a high-profile and controversial intervention by China's National People's Congress (NPC) standing committee over their oaths of allegiance, with very few options for delaying the passage of unpopular legislation.

China has also decreed that part of a high-speed railway station linking the former British colony of Hong Kong to its national high-speed rail network will be subject to its laws, sparking a public outcry.

Critics say the ruling ignores Hong Kong's status as a separate immigration, policing, and customs jurisdiction, enshrined in the terms of its 1997 handover to China, and in its mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

The city's Bar Association (HKBA) has hit out at the arrangement, saying it constitutes an irreparable breach of the Basic Law. The city's lawyers say the Hong Kong immigration department, not the mainland Chinese border police, should be in charge of entry and exit control checks for passengers entering and leaving the city, citing Article 154(2) of the Basic Law.

Chinese and Hong Kong government officials say the arrangement will streamline the immigration process, however.

‘The new normal’

Political commentator To Yiu-ming said the Hong Kong government has been supine in the face of ever-encroaching demands from the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

"There is nothing the Hong Kong government will refuse the mainland authorities," To wrote in a recent commentary broadcast on RFA's Cantonese Service. "This has become the new normal for relations between Hong Kong and Beijing."

"The Hong Kong Bar Association said that the high-speed rail joint-inspection proposal violated the Basic Law, but the government didn't even choose to reply," To said.

He hit out at the government's attitude to Beijing as "a betrayal of Hong Kong people's interests," citing the refusal of chief executive Carrie Lam's administration to criticize Beijing for violent attacks on Hong Kong journalists working in mainland China.

To also cited Lam's failure to condemn a public smear campaign directed by pro-China media at Hong Kong University law professor Benny Tai, after he made some hypothetical comments about independence for the city at an academic symposium in Taiwan.

"Even if a person's remarks don't conform with the ruling party's thinking, or even if they are politically inaccurate, they fall within the scope of freedom of speech, and as such are protected by law," To said. "And yet the Hong Kong government spoke critically [of Tai]."

He said Beijing had been planning to take firm control of Hong Kong since half a million people took to the streets to protest attempts to pass laws penalizing subversion and sedition in 2003.

"Lam's administration ... apparently can't wait to sacrifice the interests of the people of Hong Kong," To said.

Reported by RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.