Hong Kong stripped four pro-democracy lawmakers from their seats on Wednesday immediately after China granted the city the power to disqualify politicians seen as a threat to national security.
The eviction comes after 19 pro-democracy lawmakers in the semi-autonomous city’s legislature threatened on Monday to resign “en masse” if their colleagues were disqualified.
The Hong Kong government said the four would “immediately lose their lawmakers qualifications”.
The statement came after the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress – one of China’s leading legislative committees – ruled that Hong Kong could remove any lawmaker deemed a threat to national security without going to court.
The disqualification is the latest blow to the city’s beleaguered democracy movement, which has been subject to sustained attack since China introduced a comprehensive national security law, including arrests for social media posts and activists fleeing overseas.
It was imposed in June to quell months of large and often violent protests in the financial center.
China’s leaders have described it as a “sword” hanging over the heads of their critics.
“If due process, the protection of systems and functions and the fight for democracy and human rights resulted in the consequences of a disqualification, I would be honored,” Dennis Kwok, one of the disqualified lawmakers, told reporters on Wednesday.
The four were originally banned from voting in the semi-autonomous city’s parliamentary elections, due to take place on September 6, after calling on the US to impose sanctions on officials in Hong Kong.
These elections were postponed and authorities blamed the coronavirus.
Hong Kong lawmakers pass the territory’s laws, but only half of the 70 members are directly elected – and a complex appointment system ensures that the city’s pro-Beijing establishment guarantees as good a majority as possible.
Brawls and protests are routine, with the pro-democracy minority often resorting to filibustering and other tactics to stop the bills they reject.
A mass resignation would result in the legislature being composed almost entirely of those who represent Beijing’s line.
Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam said the disqualifications were “constitutional, legal, reasonable and necessary”.
Hong Kong’s inability to elect their leaders and lawmakers was at the core of growing opposition to Beijing’s rule.
More than 10,000 people were arrested during the democracy protests, and the courts are now filled with legal proceedings – many of them involving opposition lawmakers and prominent activists.
Critics say the broadly worded provisions of the law are a hammer blow to the flickering freedoms China promised to allow Hong Kong to exist after British rule ended in 1997.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and posted from a syndicated feed.)