Hong Kong court dismisses legal bid to unseat pro-independence lawmaker Lau Siu Lai

Democracy Groundwork legislator Lau Siu Lai arrives at the High Court in Hong Kong on Nov 18, 2016.
Democracy Groundwork legislator Lau Siu Lai arrives at the High Court in Hong Kong on Nov 18, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

HONG KONG - A Hong Kong court on Friday (Nov 18) dismissed the first legal bid to unseat localist lawmaker Lau Siu Lai in a growing controversy over oath-taking in the legislature.

The court dismissed the bid because of delays in the application, the South China Morning Post reported.

It said High Court Judge Thomas Au Hing Cheung rejected the election petition filed by Mr Kwan San Wai, a candidate in Ms Lau's Kowloon West constituency in the Legislative Council elections in September.

Ms Lau, 40, is among 13 pro-democracy lawmakers targeted in several judicial reviews over their oath-taking following the elections.

Pro-independence lawmakers Mr Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung Hang, 30, and Ms Yau Wai Ching, 25, were disqualified by the High Court on Tuesday. They filed an appeal on Thursday against the judgment, which was in line with a controversial Beijing ruling last week that stipulated lawmakers should take their oaths "sincerely".

Beijing's move has sparked fears of an erosion of the city's autonomy, and analysts warned that more lawmakers deemed to have altered their oaths in the same ceremony could lose their seats.

In his writ, Mr Kwan challenged Ms Lau's status as a duly elected lawmaker given her lack of "any will" to uphold the oath she took at the swearing-in session in October. Ms Lau took long pauses between words the first time she read her oath and explained later on Facebook that she had meant to render it meaningless.

At the start of the hearing on Friday, the judge pointed out to Mr Kwan's representative, Mr Tim Wong, that his client had yet to make the security payment for all costs - for which he had offered to pay the maximum amount, HK$20,000 (S$3,679.80).

The judge also said Mr Kwan was late in notifying the other parties of his petition, which he was required by law to do within two days after the submission.

"There are clear rules in the law. It's not just you come and say, 'I'm late,'" the judge said.

Ms Lau still faces two judicial reviews aimed at disqualifying her.

The National People's Congress Standing Committee in Beijing said last week that lawmakers must swear allegiance to Hong Kong as part of China and stated that "those who declare Hong Kong independence" have no right to run for the legislature.

Earlier this week, the High Court found that Mr Leung and Ms Yau pronounced the name of the country in a manner deemed to be insulting to China and had "declined" to take the oath by failing to demonstrate an intent to be bound by it truthfully and faithfully.

The court also ruled that they should bear 80 per cent of the legal costs as the government has won the case against them.

On Thursday, the pair started a crowdfunding programme to raise HK$5 million to pay for the estimated cost of their court appeal.

The dispute over their oath-taking has raised tensions in Hong Kong to their highest point since 2014, when pro-democracy protesters blocked streets for 79 days demanding universal suffrage.