Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching were disqualified as legislators by The High Court in Hong Kong on Tuesday (15 November) after they deliberately misread their swearing-in oaths last October.
The two pledged allegiance to the “Hong Kong nation”. They also displayed a “Hong Kong is not China” banner and used an old-fashioned derogatory Japanese term for China during a swearing-in ceremony for the city’s legislative council last month.
In the ceremony, Yau inserted a curse word into her pledge. While, Leung crossed his fingers.
A High Court judge ruled that 30-year-old Leung and 25-year-old Yau of the Youngspiration party violated a section of the semi-autonomous Chinese city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law and also laws covering oaths taken by officials.
The Judge, Thomas Au said, “Mr Leung and Ms Yau have been disqualified from assuming and have vacated the office of a member of the Legislative Council.”
He added, “The oaths purportedly taken by Mr Leung and Ms Yau on 12 October 2016 are invalid and void and have no legal effect.”
The legal challenge aimed at preventing the two from taking their seats were filed by Hong Kong’s leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, and Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen. They argued that Leung and Yau had effectively declined to take their oaths by distorting them at the swearing-in ceremony.
Beijing responded by handing down its own interpretation of the Basic Law last week, which amounted to Beijing’s most direct intervention in the territory’s legal system since the 1997 handover to Chinese rule. It also circumvents Hong Kong’s courts and raises fears that the city’s wide autonomy and independent judiciary under Chinese rule were being undermined.
Hong Kong courts are required to enforce such rulings.
However, Judge Au stated that it had no effect on his decision, saying, “By seeking to make a mockery of China and the People’s Republic of China in a derogatory and humiliating manner, it is objectively plain that Mr. Leung and Ms. Yau refused to pledge allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region as an inalienable part of the People’s Republic of China.”
He also said the way they took their oaths showed “clearly that they did not truthfully and faithfully intend to commit themselves to uphold and abide by” the city’s constitution.
He added, “With or without (Beijing’s) interpretation, the court would reach the same conclusion.”
The two were not alone. Hong Kong officials say they think a total of 15 new lawmakers made some variation in the oath. However, it is unclear whether any others will be sanctioned.
Yau told a media scrum outside the courthouse that the ruling did not come as a surprise to her, “I knew that there was this possibility. The government has used so many small acts to suppress the courts and the courts had so much pressure and came up with such a decision.”
The Communist-controlled National People’s Congress Standing Committee sparked protests with its decision in a rare interpretation of the semi-autonomous city’s constitution, saying that an oath that did not conform to Hong Kong’s law “should be determined to be invalid, and cannot be retaken”.
The official Xinhua news agency reported that China’s parliament ruled at the end of a regular bimonthly session that the pair of pro-independence lawmakers could not assume their positions in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council if they refused legal procedures when taking oath of office.
The oath-taking controversy made waves in the former colony. The topic of independence from China was once regarded as taboo. However, it has come to the fore since the pro-democracy protests which failed to secure any concessions from Beijing in 2014.
The city’s leader, Leung Chung-ying, called for zero-tolerance against activists pushing for independence from China ahead of the court’s ruling.
Leung told Xinhua, “Those who are advocating for independence and other forms of splitting from the country are a small minority but I cannot lower my guard and cannot (give them) any tolerance”.
“Members of the Hong Kong independence (movement) cannot appear in the political system,” he added.