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Legislative Council of Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s Legco descends into chaos as Beijing intervention looms

Court set to open case on disqualification of localist lawmakers over spoiled oaths on same day nation’s top body meets to discuss the saga

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 November, 2016, 12:03am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 November, 2016, 9:31am

A Hong Kong court today opens the case on two anti-China localists amid concerns its ruling may be pre-empted by an intervention from the nation’s top legislative body to disqualify the pair after clashes over their antics roiled the city’s legislature again Wednesday.

As Basic Law Committee members began gathering in Beijing last night, one of them, Rao Geping, told reporters to “wait a few days” when asked to confirm whether the National People’s Congress Standing Committee would interpret the city’s mini-constitution. The latter committee consults the former when deciding to interpret the Basic Law.

The prospect of a Beijing intervention in Hong Kong’s court system added to the mayhem of the fourth meeting of the Legislative Council on Wednesday during which the two localists, Youngspiration’s Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching, tried to storm the council meeting after they were once again barred from entering the chamber. Six security guards were injured in the scuffle and sent to hospital, with one kept there overnight.

Watch: Hong Kong localists rush into the Legco chamber to retake their oaths

Youngspiration duo increasingly isolated by pan-democratic allies, as antics cause harm and chaos

The court case centres on a legal challenge mounted by the Hong Kong government to disqualify the duo, who used derogatory language to insult China during their oath-taking three weeks ago. The pro-independence pair, arguing they had a people’s mandate to stay as lawmakers, on Wednesday tried to read out their oaths again before being hauled away.

News of the Standing Committee’s plan to intervene emerged on Tuesday, with sources telling the Post the top body would meet today – the same day of the court hearing – to deliberate on the issue, signalling Beijing’s anger over the matter.

The move has raised alarm in various quarters, with the Hong Kong Bar Association expressing “deep concern” and warning that an interpretation would “deal a severe blow” to the independence of the judiciary and do “irreparable harm” to Hong Kong.

The Basic Law says local courts should seek a reading from Beijing over affairs the central government is responsible for or which are to do with its relationship with Hong Kong.

Beijing interpretation on Legislative Council oath taking rattles Hong Kong

It would be Beijing’s fifth interpretation of the Basic Law since the 1997 handover. Some of the past interventions were seen as a knock to the city’s rule of law. The current interpretation would be the first to pre-empt the city’s courts over a case for which an initial hearing has been held and full submissions are yet to take place.

Elsie Leung Oi-sie, vice-chairwoman of the Basic Law Committee, would not confirm the news, but said any decision regarding an interpretation, if any, would only be announced on Monday, when the bi-monthly meeting of the top legislative body closed.

The agenda of the Standing Committee on its website did not show any item on the matter, but listed “other” issues on the agenda for Saturday and “voting on all bills” for Monday.

While observers expected the Hong Kong government to ask the court to adjourn the case to await Beijing’s ruling, the department of justice said it would not do so.

The government’s counsel, Johnny Mok Shiu-luen SC, said he “very much wanted the court to hear and rule on the case”.

Hong Kong’s top legal body ‘deeply concerned’ over mainland intervention in oath-taking saga

“We are fully prepared,” he said. “I can’t think of anything else that can be of better help.”

Mok, also a Basic Law Committee member, said he would recuse himself from the committee meetings if there were any.

Among other articles, it is expected that Article 104, which requires lawmakers to swear allegiance to Hong Kong under China and uphold the Basic Law, will be scrutinised anew.

At the Legco meeting on Wednesday, lawmakers across the political divide expressed concern. A motion by the democratic camp to debate the interpretation issue was rejected by Legco president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen.

On the pro-establishment side, Paul Tse Wai-chun said the matter should be left to the local courts, while Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said an intervention would “deal a blow to Hong Kong’s rule of law and the government’s authority” though it could also fast-track matters.

On Wednesday night, 1,600 people joined the democratic camp’s lawmakers in a rally outside the chief executive’s office to protest against Beijing’s move, before marching to the liaison office in the city. March organiser Civil Human Rights Front said it planned a more formal march on Sunday.

Additional reporting Josh Ye