Last week we talked about the election of two pro-independence members of Hong Kong’s municipal government and the immediate move by China to invalidate the election and bar them from taking office. Now a court in the city (where the ruling government is very pro-Beijing) has validated that decision and declared their seats vacant. (New York Times)
A court in Hong Kong ruled on Tuesday that two pro-independence politicians who inserted an anti-China snub into their oaths of office cannot take their seats in the city’s legislature, effectively ending a case in which Beijing had taken extraordinary steps to influence politics in Hong Kong.
A judge in the High Court said that Yau Wai-ching, 25, and Sixtus Leung, 30, had “contravened” the territory’s charter and a local law, declaring vacant their seats on the semiautonomous city’s Legislative Council, to which they were elected in September. China’s central government handed down an edict last week that effectively barred them from the council.
If you happen to live in Hong Kong and had any hopes of eventual independence (or even a return to British rule) this has to come as a devastating blow. The “legal” excuse the courts are giving for validating this dismissal of the votes cast by their citizens is based on an obscure and ominous sounding law which states that all new office holders must not only take their oath of office in public, but they must do so “sincerely and solemnly.” With a caveat such as that in place, even if you took the standard oath word for word, the courts (or even the government in Beijing apparently) can determine that you weren’t sincere enough and give you the boot.
In this case, both of the newly elected legislators went several steps further, making their pledge to the “Hong Kong nation” and displayed a flag which proclaimed that “Hong Kong is not China.” Provocative to be sure, but illegal? That comes down to a question of free speech. Both of the officials claimed that under Hong Kong law their speech in the legislative chamber was protected and immune from legal action. The court rejected this argument, but it’s a good reminder for observers in western nations of the alarming fact that such protection would even be needed in the first place.
China has their claws into Hong Kong fully, and while they may be willing to ignore some of the rabble rousing going on in the interest of keeping the peace, there’s clearly a limit to their tolerance. If they are able to overturn popular elections on a whim, the idea of democracy in Hong Kong is an illusion and it’s one more example of the true authoritarian nature of the regime.