HK seeks to unseat four pro-democracy lawmakers

The government stresses that the move 'did not include any political considerations'

HONG KONG • The Hong Kong government has launched a legal bid to unseat four elected pro-democracy lawmakers, sparking accusations from the opposition camp that they are being subjected to a witch-hunt.

Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying and Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen began the action yesterday, two days after a pair of barred pro-independence lawmakers, Mr Sixtus Baggio Leung and Ms Yau Wai Ching, lost a legal appeal against their disqualification, government radio station RTHK reported.

It comes as concerns grow that Beijing is stepping up interference in the semi-autonomous city's politics after the two lawmakers advocating a complete split from China were banned from taking up their seats in Parliament for failing to take their oaths properly.

Mr Leung and Ms Yau deliberately misread their oaths of office, inserted expletives and draped themselves with "Hong Kong is not China" flags during a swearing-in ceremony in October.

They were banned from office by the city's High Court following a special interpretation of the city's Constitution by Beijing.

The government is now challenging a group of more moderate pro-democracy legislators over their oath-taking, including the city's youngest-ever legislator, Nathan Law, 23.

The others are veteran lawmaker Leung Kwok Hung, a prominent advocate of democracy known across the city as "Long Hair"; Dr Lau Siu Lai; and Mr Edward Yiu.

Mr Law and Dr Lau made their names during Hong Kong's mass pro-democracy "Umbrella Movement" rallies in 2014. They have called for far more autonomy for Hong Kong to protect it against greater controls by China.

The government said in a statement yesterday that it had asked the court to declare the offices of the four lawmakers vacant.

"The government stressed that the commencement of the... proceedings was a purely legal and enforcement decision and did not include any political considerations," the statement said.

Mr Law hit out at the government's move, saying it was "a blow to all democratic forces".

"This is a very grave challenge for the pro-democracy political camp," he added, describing the measure as "total war" waged by Chief Executive Leung against all democrats.

Pro-democracy lawmakers protested outside government headquarters with a banner saying the city's pro-Beijing leader is "staging a coup and declaring a war on voters".

Hong Kong is semi-autonomous after being handed back to China by Britain in 1997, but there are fears that its liberties are disappearing.

Frustration among young campaigners over a lack of political reform has fuelled a new movement advocating independence and self-determination for the city.

The oath of office requires lawmakers to repeatedly describe Hong Kong as a "special administrative region of China".

During the swearing in, Mr Law quoted Mahatma Gandhi before taking the oath, saying "You will never imprison my mind", and used intonation to make his pledge sound like a question.

Dr Lau read her pledge at a snail's pace, veteran anti-China lawmaker Leung Kwok Hung raised a yellow umbrella - a symbol of the democracy movement - while Mr Yiu added lines to his oath, saying he would "fight for general universal suffrage".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 03, 2016, with the headline 'HK seeks to unseat four pro-democracy lawmakers'. Print Edition | Subscribe