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8 More Pro-Democracy Lawmakers in Hong Kong Face Expulsion

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Protesters set up barriers against the police outside the office of the Chinese liaison in Hong Kong on Sunday. Credit Vincent Yu/Associated Press

HONG KONG — Eight pro-democracy lawmakers face being expelled from Hong Kong’s legislature after a member of a taxi drivers’ association asked a court to rule that they did not make proper oaths of office, which could put them in violation of a controversial ruling made in Beijing.

The new suit brings to 10 the number of people who were elected in September to Hong Kong’s Legislative Council and who may lose their seats. Two others, Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching, infuriated the Chinese government when they inserted a derogatory term for China into their oaths and pledged loyalty to the “Hong Kong nation.”

Their actions prompted Beijing to announce new guidelines on Monday specifying that oaths must be made “sincerely and solemnly” and be read accurately, with no chance of retaking them.

On Sunday, news of the impending ruling from Beijing set off large street protests in Hong Kong, ending with a clash between the police and protesters in which officers in riot gear used pepper spray on demonstrators. On Tuesday, after the ruling, hundreds of lawyers, concerned that China was undermining the court system, marched through the city’s central business district. Even though Hong Kong, a British colony until 1997, has considerable autonomy, China can issue interpretations of the territory’s mini-constitution, known as the Basic Law, that must be taken into account by Hong Kong’s judges.

The new case, an application filed on Wednesday for a so-called judicial review, concerns the Legislative Council’s decision to accept oaths from six of the eight lawmakers and to let the two others retake theirs after their first try was rejected, according to filings to the High Court.

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Leung Kwok-hung unfurled a yellow umbrella, a symbol of the 2014 pro-democracy demonstrations, when he took the oath of office in Hong Kong in October. Credit Anthony Wallace/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In an interview with the local RTHK public broadcasting service, Robin Cheng Yuk-kai, the former chairman of the Taxi Drivers and Operators Association, displayed the application for the review of the eight lawmakers. It is not the first time Mr. Cheng has used the judicial process to help push forward the interests of Beijing. In late 2014 his group successfully sued to have a court injunction issued to clear portions of a major thoroughfare that was the scene of pro-democracy demonstrations.

“The variations in their oath mean one thing, that they did not sincerely take the oath,” Mr. Cheng said in the interview. “If they did not sincerely swear allegiance to the country and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, how are they qualified to become Hong Kong’s legislators?”

Applying for judicial review in Hong Kong is a two-step process. The court first has to give the applicant permission to go ahead with the case. Judges will look to see that the person asking for the review has “sufficient interest in the matter.” It is unclear what interest Mr. Cheng has in the case, although the taxi driver’s association is a corporate member of the transport functional constituency, a system in Hong Kong in which trade groups are given seats on the Legislative Council.

Among the eight lawmakers named in the suit are Lau Siu-lai, who read her oath very slowly over more than 10 minutes, pausing after each word; Nathan Law, who gave a preamble saying he couldn’t be loyal to a regime that “murders its own people”; and Leung Kwok-hung, known as Long Hair, who unfurled a yellow umbrella, a symbol of the 2014 protests, when he gave his oath.

Hong Kong’s judicial system, inherited from the British, is well known for its independence. Judges must decide how to interpret the ruling from Beijing in each case and determine whether the ruling, which came after the oaths had already been accepted, is retroactive. Ms. Yau and Mr. Leung, in contrast, had their oaths rejected and have not been given the opportunity to retake them.

“I don’t think I have broken any law,” Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, one of the targeted legislators, told reporters on Thursday. “I don’t think, even after the interpretation, the law of the court of Hong Kong will do such a ridiculous decision as to disqualify me and my fellow colleagues in the chamber.”

“This is political repression from Beijing to the whole society, not only to me,” Mr. Chu said.

China strongly suggested that Monday’s ruling was aimed at more people than Mr. Leung and Ms. Yau. On Wednesday, one Beijing official said as many as 15 lawmakers risked losing their seats over improper oaths, while another detailed what kind of oaths would be considered “insincere,” The South China Morning Post reported.

Source: NYT > World

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