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Hong Kong high court disqualifies lawmakers for improper swearing-in of oaths of office

[JURIST] The Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal [official website] voided [Reuters report] the oaths of office of four opposition lawmakers on Friday and removed them from the legislature. Among the four disqualified lawmakers were 24-year-old Nathan Law, leader of the 2014 "Umbrella movement" protests, veteran activist "Long Hair" Kwok-hung Leung, Siu-lai Lau, and Edward Yiu. The reasons behind Judge Thomas Au's decision to remove the lawmakers were varied, but all had a rather broad common theme - changing the wording of the oath of office or failing to take the oath in a "sincere and solemn" manner. Specifically, of the four removed lawmakers, Au said Law "expressed a doubt on or disrespect of the status of the [People's Republic of China] as a legitimate sovereign of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region." Law had quoted [BBC News report] Mahatma Gandhi during his swearing in saying: "you can never imprison my mind." Au also referred to Leung's colorful display of a yellow umbrella bearing pro-democracy and protest messages as disqualifying his oath. Lau was disqualified for reading her oath at a slow pace, while Yiu was disqualified for adding words to his oath. Au concluded that The National People's Congress of the People's Republic of China (NPC) [official website] interpreted [BBC News report] the Basic Law [text, PDF] last year to require city lawmakers to swear allegiance to a China-Hong Kong, and that changing the wording of their oath or lacking sincerity is grounds for dismissal. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] called the ruling an "alarming blow to Hong Kong's fast deteriorating autonomy ... used to excise some elected pro-democracy activists from legislature, to rig the system further in favor of pro-Beijing politicians." The four lawmakers have indicated their intention to appeal the decision.

Hong Kong was a British colony until 20 years ago when it moved under the authority of the People's Republic of China (PRC) under a "one country, two systems" setup. This setup was designed to protect Hong Kong's autonomy and allow freedoms not permitted in mainland China. However, this autonomy has often been curtailed in situations where such autonomy appeared to question PRC's dominion over Hong Kong. In November 2016 the Hong Kong Court of Appeal ruled [JURIST report] against two elected, pro-independence politicians from taking local office. That caused more than 1,000 Hong Kong lawyers, dressed in black, to march [JURIST report] through the city in opposition of the decision. In January an estimated 5,000 people marched in Hong Kong [JURIST report] in support of pro-democracy politicians who were similarly barred from taking office the previous year for altering their oaths office. In August a Hong Kong court convicted [JURIST report] three leaders, who participated in the 2014 pro-democracy protests, of unlawful assembly and inciting others to join the assembly. Among these protestors was Nathan Law, one of the lawmakers disqualified in this decision on Friday.

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