Hong Kong stripped four pro-democracy lawmakers of their seats Wednesday, immediately after China gave the city the power to disqualify politicians deemed a threat to national security.
The ousting comes after 19 pro-democracy lawmakers in the semi-autonomous city’s legislature threatened Monday to resign “en masse” if their colleagues were disqualified.
The Hong Kong government issued a statement saying the four would “lose their qualification as legislators immediately”.
The statement came after one of China’s top lawmaking committees ruled that Hong Kong could remove any legislator deemed a threat to national security without going through the courts.
Hong Kong’s democracy camp has been under sustained attack since Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law in June, including political disqualifications, arrests for social media posts and activists fleeing overseas.
The law was imposed to quell months of huge and often violent democracy protests that broke out last year.
China’s leaders have described the law as a “sword” hanging over the head of their critics.
Hong Kong’s leader is chosen by pro-Beijing committees, but half of its legislature’s 70 seats are directly elected, offering the city’s 7.5 million residents a rare chance to have their voices heard at the ballot box.
A mass resignation would leave the legislature composed almost entirely of those toeing Beijing’s line.
The inability of Hong Kongers to elect their leaders and all of their lawmakers has been at the heart of swelling opposition to Beijing’s rule.