Lawmakers in HK appeal against loss of their seats

Pair at centre of controversy were 'surprised' by Beijing's move, but don't regret actions

The two lawmakers at the centre of an oath-taking controversy will have to wait until next Thursday for a hearing on their appeal against a Hong Kong High Court ruling which disqualifies them from the legislature.

Mr Sixtus Leung, 30, and Ms Yau Wai Ching, 25, yesterday filed an appeal against the judgment, which was in line with a controversial Beijing ruling last week which stipulated that 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.

One of them, localist lawmaker Lau Siu Lai, 40, will have her case heard in court today after a complaint was filed against her.

Yesterday, Mr Leung and Ms Yau told The Straits Times (ST) in an hour-long interview that they were surprised by Beijing's intervention, but insisted they did not regret their actions.

They spoke to ST before a court hearing yesterday on their application to stop the government from declaring their seats in Hong Kong's Legislative Council (Legco) empty. The hearing ended after 10 minutes, with the judges saying there was no need for the application as the pair's seats would not be vacated before the court hears their appeal against the judgment next Thursday.

Yesterday, Mr Leung said they had not expected the move by Beijing, which controversially interpreted Hong Kong's Basic Law without being asked to do so, in its bid to bar the two pro-independence lawmakers from the Legco.

The National People's Congress Standing Committee in Beijing said 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.

But Mr Leung told ST he and Ms Yau were simply following what other legislators had done. He cited lawmaker Leung Kwok Hung, better known as "Long Hair", who was sworn in as a Legco member despite adding words to his standard oath in previous ceremonies.

At the Legco swearing-in ceremony on Oct 12, Mr Leung and Ms Yau displayed banners saying that Hong Kong is not China and used a term deemed insulting to China. Ms Yau said they chose to do so then, as the swearing-in ceremony is "a day that the whole world will be watching".

Both insisted they did not refuse to swear allegiance to China, but had merely added some words to the standard oath.

Mr Leung said: "In today's Hong Kong, we have the People's Republic of China, Special Administrative Region and Basic Law. But there's nothing on Hong Kong people. As a democratically elected lawmaker, we are elected by the people in Hong Kong. Hence, we feel the need to swear allegiance to the Hong Kong nation."

Mr Leung said he displayed the banner as he wanted to show the world a tenet of localism which emerged following the Occupy protests in 2014. "This place is not China. If it's China, there is no need for 'one country, two systems'."

Hours after the Hong Kong High Court's ruling on Tuesday, the pair's names were removed from the Legco building and Legco president Andrew Leung told reporters they would be given "a few days" to vacate their office. He said the two would have to return part of their cash advances and salaries as legislators, as the court had ruled that they lost their seats on Oct 12.

Mr Leung and Ms Yau are said to have received closed to HK$1 million (S$182,900) each by the end of last month. The court also ruled that they should bear 80 per cent of the legal costs as the government has won the case against them.

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

Despite the prospect of mounting legal fees, Mr Leung remained unfazed. He said: "I am a living example to tell people why they need to decide their own future."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 18, 2016, with the headline 'Lawmakers in HK appeal against loss of their seats'. Print Edition | Subscribe