Hong Kong Basic Law

Beijing confirms it will interpret Basic Law over Hong Kong legislative oath controversy

Decision prompts anger from localist and pan-democrat camps, while lawyers plan a ‘silent march’ of protest on Tuesday

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 November, 2016, 12:00pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 November, 2016, 10:59am

Beijing will step into an oath-taking controversy and rule in the row involving two pro-independence lawmakers that has landed in a Hong Kong court, a Basic Law Committee member has confirmed after several days of speculation.

Maria Tam Wai-chu told the media on Friday the leadership of the National People’s Congress would move to seek an interpretation of Article 104 of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, which says lawmakers must swear allegiance to Hong Kong as an inalienable part of the People’s Republic of China.

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Several Beijing-friendly politicians expect the ruling to cover other allegiance-related issues that have emerged from pro-independence thinking.

The decision brought a furious response from the pan-democratic and localist camps, with the legal sector planning a “silent march” on Tuesday, the day after the interpretation is set to be endorsed by the NPC Standing Committee.

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Speaking in Beijing, NPC deputy Tam said: “This was not the Hong Kong ­government or the chief executive requesting the interpretation... It is an important issue involving national unity and territorial integrity, therefore [the NPC’s leadership] took the initiative and made the request.”

Confirmation of the interpretation came a day after the High Court heard the arguments in a judicial review mounted by the Hong Kong government to disqualify two localist lawmakers, Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching.

Both used derogatory language to insult China during their oath-taking on October 12. The court has yet to deliver its judgment.

A Hong Kong government spokesman said it was notified by Beijing after the conclusion of the judicial review hearing on Thursday night that an item relating to interpreting Article 104 had been put on the Standing Committee’s agenda. It said the Justice Department had informed the court of the notification.

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State broadcaster CCTV reported on Friday night that NPC chairman Zhang Dejiang had chaired a meeting at which it was agreed that a draft interpretation of Article 104 among other things would be scrutinised by the Standing Committee.

NPC deputy Michael Tien Puk-sun said the interpretation may also have implications for localist lawmaker Lau Siu-Lai and her retaking of the oath on November 3, and other pro-independence activists.

Separately, a candidate in Lau’s Kowloon West geographical constituency, garment maker Kwan San-wai, filed an election petition challenging her status as a duly elected lawmaker given her lack of “any will” to uphold the oath when she took long pauses between words when she read it the first time.

Former Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing said: “It’s obvious the central government cannot tolerate the spread or any propaganda about Hong Kong independence ... I think the interpretation could define what kind of behaviour would be considered breaching the Basic Law or breaking up the country.”

It is an important issue involving national unity and territorial integrity, therefore [the NPC’s leadership] took the initiative and made the request
NPC deputy Maria Tam

Pan-democrat lawmakers urged Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to go to Legco to explain his stance on interpretation by Monday. Leung said yesterday he would communicate with lawmakers, but refused to answer other questions.

Tam dismissed the suggestion the move would destroy the city’s rule of law. “It won’t because it fits the criteria in Article 158,” she said, referring to the provision governing the Basic Law’s interpretation. “Whether to interpret it earlier or later is a matter of weighing between the heavier and lighter, not a matter of ... the rule of law.”

Bar Association chairwoman Winnie Tam was not impressed. “It would inevitably hit the city’s rule of law,” she said.

Dennis Kwok, the legal sector lawmaker who called for Tuesday’s march, said the move would deal a huge blow to the city’s rule of law.

The Civil Human Rights Front and pan-democrats will hold a march on Sunday with the theme “Protect the rule of law”.

The two localists at the centre of the storm said they did not regret what they had done.

“I am a lawmaker elected by the people,” Yau said. “I said from the start I would pledge allegiance to the Hong Kong people. Those in power are now twisting the Basic Law to suppress [us].”

Baggio Leung said the interpretation would deliver “a lethal blow to the rule of law and the Hong Kong judicial system”.

Additional reporting by Naomi Ng