Two young pro-independence lawmakers are effectively barred from taking their seats in the Hong Kong legislature after an interpretation of the city's mini-Constitution by Beijing. This rare move, announced yesterday, is expected to trigger more protests and unrest in the city, with Hong Kong lawyers saying ahead of the ruling that they will hold a silent protest march today.
The two lawmakers - Mr Sixtus Leung, 30, and Ms Yau Wai Ching, 25 - had refused to pledge allegiance to the city as part of China when they were being sworn into office last month. They had also altered some words in their oath and used the Japanese term " Cheena" to refer to China, seen as derogatory to the mainland.
Such actions are deemed to have contravened the legal requirements for public office, said the National People's Congress (NPC), China's parliament.
"Those who declare Hong Kong independence not only have no right to run for the legislature and be a lawmaker, they should also be subject to legal responsibilities," said the NPC in an eight-page document detailing its interpretation of Article 104 of the Basic Law.
Mr Li Fei, chairman of the NPC's Basic Law committee, at a media briefing yesterday said the interpretation carries the same legal weight as the mini-constitution and "bears the highest legal authority".
In closing remarks at the briefing, Mr Li called for all to remember the war atrocities committed by the Japanese in Hong Kong.
He criticised the two lawmakers and other pro-independence youth, saying they had no sense of history, and likened them to "traitors who sell out their country".
This is Beijing's fifth interpretation of the Basic Law since the 1997 handover of the former British colony. It marks the first time it chooses to do so ahead of a judicial review - whether the two lawmakers should be allowed to retake their oath - without a request from the Hong Kong authorities or judiciary.
Analysts told The Straits Times the move is significant as it not only affects the two lawmakers in question but also has implications for the other cases that are being deliberated by the Hong Kong courts.
Dr Tian Feilong, a law expert at Beijing's Beihang University, said Beijing has taken a much bolder and tougher stance than before. "The central government foresees that the local Hong Kong authorities are powerless to uphold the law, and require specific support from Beijing."
Given that the Hong Kong legislature is paralysed by this incident - three sessions had been aborted over the oath-taking row - the central government has decided it must take timely action to help the local authorities resolve this constitutional crisis, he said. "Beijing is in crisis management mode," he added.
Hong Kong political analyst Willy Lam warned that there could be more violent protests in the days to come, following the ruling.
Given that the two lawmakers will lose their seats, a by-election is expected to be held in three months' time, said Dr Lam. "If another localist activist is allowed to stand, and loses in the by-election, that would set the stage for an even bigger confrontation, much bigger than Sunday's protest," he said.
Thousands of Hong Kongers took to the streets on Sunday ahead of Beijing's move, with hundreds clashing with police overnight.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying said yesterday he would "fully implement" the ruling.