China’s top body lays down law on Hong Kong oath-taking
Basic Law interpretation paves way for disqualification of localists; chief executive hints at bringing forward controversial national security legislation
China’s top legislative body yesterday voted unanimously to endorse an interpretation of Hong Kong’s Basic Law rule on oath-taking that will effectively disqualify two localist lawmakers and block advocates of Hong Kong independence from contesting future Legislative Council elections.
The ruling by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, which requires public officials to take their oaths “sincerely” and “solemnly” or face disqualification, paves the way for by-elections to fill the seats to be vacated by Youngspiration duo Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching.
It also leaves the fate of lawmakers such as Lau Siu-lai and Edward Yiu Chung-yim, whose original oaths were invalidated, hanging in the balance.
Responding to the ruling, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying gave his strongest signal yet he was prepared to move on controversial national security legislation to stamp out independence advocacy. Asked if it was time to resurrect a law that was aborted in 2003 amid mass protests, he said: “We have not seen anyone advocating independence in the past but now we see it. This indeed deserves our attention.”
In setting out the ruling, Basic Law Committee chairman Li Fei said the Standing Committee’s interpretation was an “important component of the rule of law in Hong Kong”.
“It won’t amount to interference with judicial independence in the city,” he said, dismissing concerns cited by some legal scholars.
The interpretation was seen in some quarters as undermining the city’s judicial independence by pre-empting the court on a judicial review being mounted by the government to bar Baggio Leung and Yau. The judge has yet to make a ruling.
The interpretation of Article 104, which applies to oath-taking by public officers including principal officials, lawmakers and judges, states that upholding the Basic Law and pledging allegiance to Hong Kong as part of China are the legal requirements for running for and taking up public office.
“An oath-taker must take the oath sincerely and solemnly, and must accurately, completely and solemnly read out the oath prescribed by law,” the ruling reads.
Watch: Chief executive backs China’s Basic Law ruling
An oath-taker would be disqualified because of deliberate non-compliance and would not get a second chance to retake the oath The ruling also emphasises that those who breach the oath “shall bear legal responsibility.”
“[The central government] is determined to firmly confront the pro-independence forces without any ambiguity,” Li said.
Zhang Rongshun, vice-chairman of the Legislative Affairs Commission under the Standing Committee, said in an explanation of the interpretation that advocacy of Hong Kong independence fell under secession as outlawed by Article 23 of the Basic Law.
“Those advocating Hong Kong independence are not qualified to run in or take up the post of lawmaker. They will also be punished in accordance with the law,” he said.
During the swearing-in ceremony on October 12, Leung and Yau swore allegiance to the “Hong Kong nation” and pronounced China as “Chee-na”, mimicking the offensive term Shina used by the Japanese during the second world war.
Li signalled the anger China felt towards the duo when he spoke at a press conference on the ruling and cited how they had “betrayed” the nation in taking lightly the memory of the atrocities committed by the Japanese.
NPC chairman Zhang Dejiang was quoted by Xinhua as saying the interpretation “fully reflects the will of the 1.3 billion Chinese people, including Hong Kong compatriots, to safeguard national sovereignty, security and development”.
The Deputy Foreign Ministry Commissioner in Hong Kong, Song Ru’an, said during a media briefing that derogatory oath-taking by some newly elected lawmakers constituted a grave challenge to the bottom line of “one country, two systems”.
“It poses a serious threat to the sovereignty, security and development interests of the country and is also to the detriment of prosperity and social stability in Hong Kong,” Song said. “If we sit by and let advocates of Hong Kong independence spread these ideas in the legislature, the attempts will only invite endless troubles.”
The Hong Kong Bar Association said in a statement the interpretation was unnecessary and would do more harm than good and “the perception of the international community in the authority and independence of the judiciary is liable to be undermined.”
Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung said the government would submit the interpretation document to the court handling the case involving Baggio Leung and Yau so it could decide the way forward.
Additional reporting by Jeffie Lam and Cliff Buddle