First two, now 15 Hong Kong lawmakers face prospect of being expelled from Legislative Council
Wang Zhenmin comments on legislators ‘messing up’ their oaths, while former Beijing official lambasts prosecution and judiciary for failing to live up to people’s expectations
From just two, now up to 15 Hong Kong lawmakers could be at risk of losing their seats after two Beijing spokesmen catalogued eight types of “insincere oath-taking” and delivered a stinging rebuke against the city’s legal officials.
The warning came two days after China’s top legislative body intervened in the city’s legislative oath row in a move hailed by pro-establishment politicians but criticised by the legal profession as a challenge to the city’s judicial independence.
At a seminar in Shenzhen, Chen Zuoer, former deputy director of Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, lambasted the city’s prosecution and judiciary, accusing them of “not living up to people’s expectations” in defending breaches of national security and making it “almost cost-free to oppose and commit crime against Beijing.”
Asked to elaborate later, he said: “There were a lot of cases in the last two or three years. From the storming of the PLA barracks, to the Occupy protests, the Mong Kok riots, there were a series of such cases.”
While the judiciary declined to comment, the Justice Department said it would “control criminal prosecutions, free from any interference” in accordance with the Basic Law.
The department had to consider all relevant laws before proceeding with prosecution. And while the end outcome might not be consistent with “so-called general public expectation” – which in itself could be diverse and “universal” – it had always handled all criminal cases in a fair, impartial and professional manner, it said.
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Chen also chided the city’s legal profession for opposing the interpretation either because it “lacked or had a different understanding or it was using the law as a tool for political struggle”.
Legal sector lawmaker Dennis Kwok said he welcomed dialogue with Chen if he did not understand the sector’s traditions.
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor declined to say if the government would mount judicial reviews against lawmakers whose oaths might not have complied with Beijing’s ruling. She would only say: “The government is studying the possible impact of the interpretation on other lawmakers.”
Last month, controversy erupted after pro-independence lawmakers Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching swore allegiance to a “Hong Kong nation” and insulted China during their oath-taking. They were taken to court by the government in a bid to ban them from Legco. The court has yet to deliver its judgment.
On Monday, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee issued an interpretation of Basic Law Article 104, ruling that lawmakers must be “sincere” in taking their oaths of office and those who do not comply face instant disqualification.
Speaking at the same seminar, Wang Zhenmin, legal department head of Beijing’s liaison office and a former law dean of Tsinghua University, said 15 lawmakers had “messed up” their oaths. He did not name them.
Among the 14 identified by the Post, all said they had taken their oaths solemnly and sincerely, and questioned Chen’s authority to cite categories of misconduct.
Chen, now president of the semi-official Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies think tank, also said there were “a lot of people” who did not meet the legal requirements.
He listed eight types of “insincere swearing-in” last month, such as “adding things to the ceremony ... or spending 12 minutes to finish the oath” – a reference to localist Lau Siu-lai.
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Chen said: “With the central government’s interpretation, there are clear legal provisions to follow in tackling these acts that were insincere and not solemn.”
“All Chinese, all Hong Kong residents are watching, and will offer their strong support to Hong Kong’s executive, legislative and judicial branches as they exercise justice with the ‘sharp weapon’ provided by Beijing to restore Legco to normality and order,” he said.
Asked if he believed up to 15 lawmakers should be disqualified, Chen said the city’s authorities were better placed to decide. The fight against independence advocacy was “warfare that will be won”, he said.
In September, the pan-democrat and localist camps won 30 seats in Legco, while the pro-establishment camp grabbed 40.
Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung warned it would be “unwise” for the authorities to expel half of the democrats.
“Mainstream public opinion has shown disfavour towards Leung and Yau already ... If Beijing is seeking to disqualify 15 lawmakers, it means they are not just fighting independence advocates, but launching a full-scale purge of dissident voices,” Choy said.
Additional reporting by Joyce Ng, Jeffie Lam and Emily Tsang