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Pro-independence lawmakers banned in Hong Kong

Young representatives who refused to swear allegiance to China have been turfed out of the legislative assembly

ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong

ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong

Published: November 16, 2016 10:16 AM GMT
Pro-independence lawmakers banned in Hong Kong

Yau Wai-ching, one of the pro-independence lawmakers who has been disqualified during a protest in Hong Kong on Nov 6. (ucanews.com photo)

The man who will be running the Catholic Church in Hong Kong as soon as next year has cast doubt on Beijing's intervention in the local judicial system that has seen two pro-independence lawmakers disqualified.

Hong Kong's High Court ruled on Nov. 15 that the oaths taken by lawmakers, Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Leung Chung-hang when they took office were invalid and barred them from the Legislative Council.

Before the ruling was handed down, the National People's Congress (NPC), the national legislative body of China, issued an interpretation of a Hong Kong law on Nov. 7 ruling that lawmakers must swear an oath of allegiance to China.

The move was seen as the biggest intervention in Hong Kong affairs since the former colony was handed back to China by the UK in 1997. It effectively banned the two "localist" lawmaker-elects and future pro-independent advocates from government posts.

Coadjutor Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung of Hong Kong, who was only appointed by Pope Francis this week, said that he regretted Beijing's intervention and questioned whether "it was necessary for the NPC to make this move."

"The NPC has the right to interpret the law in Hong Kong. But is it necessary to exercise this right? I have doubts," he said on Nov. 14 at a press conference after being appointed as the future successor of Cardinal Jong Tong Hon.

His willingness to criticize Beijing already sets him apart from Cardinal John Tong, who he is soon due to replace. In 2014 Cardinal Tong agreed to stay on for three more years but it's unclear exactly when he will retire.

However, Bishop Yeung humbly added that he did not fully understand the issue of interpretation from a legal perspective since he is not a legal professional.

Cardinal Tong preferred not to to speak on the matter. "I am just a religious figure who speaks about spreading the spirit of the Gospel in the human world," he told media on Nov. 13.

Thomas Au Hing-cheung, the judge of the judicial review, said Yau and Leung declined to take their oaths as required by the Basic Law; the outcome would have been the same even without Beijing's ruling.

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Yau and Leung refused to vow allegiance to China during their swearing-in ceremony on Oct. 12. Yau also said the word Shina, which could be interpreted as a racial slur. They also brandished a flag that read, "Hong Kong is not China."

The two members of the pro-independence party, Youngspiration told the press after the ruling that they would lodge an appeal and would apply for an injunction to block the government from declaring their offices vacant.


Hong Kong independence

Rallies sprung up in support of both sides. More than 13,000 pro-democracy citizens protested on Nov. 6 after Beijing announced it would intervene, while about 40,000 people joined a gathering in support of the interpretation on Nov. 13.

"As a Hong Kong citizen, I feel sad and wonder if it is necessary for the city to have such a great division," Bishop Yeung said. "Hong Kong cannot be separated from China. Where does your drinking water and food come from?"  

"Hong Kong people would like to keep a distance from mainland China. But that does not equal independence. We can keep and maintain the Basic Law and have 'one country, two systems,'" he said.

Under the "one country, two systems" principle Hong Kong's autonomy is meant to be safeguarded for 50 years. However, what some people see as incessant meddling from Beijing led to a pro-independence movement that peaked with the Umbrella Movement in 2014. It opened up a split in society which remains to this day.  

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