Hong Kong rebel lawmakers shouted, banged drums and railed against “tyranny” on Wednesday when they took their oaths of office in the city’s Legislative Council (Legco).
The chaotic first meeting of Legco’s new term came after a citywide vote last month saw victories for several lawmakers advocating more autonomy or even independence for Hong Kong.
The city is semi-autonomous under a “one country, two systems” deal sealed when Britain returned Hong Kong to China in 1997.
The arrangement protects Hong Kong’s freedoms for 50 years, but there are increasing concerns those liberties are disappearing as Beijing tightens its grip.
Lawmakers are required to recite a short oath in Legco before they can officially take up their seats.
That oath declares repeatedly that Hong Kong is a “special administrative region” of China.
The government had warned lawmakers in advance that they risked losing their seats if they did not take the oath properly.
“You can chain me, you can torture me, you can even destroy this body – but you can never imprison my mind”
Nathan Law, 23, Legco’s youngest lawmaker and a former pro-democracy protest leader, delivered an impassioned speech ahead of taking the oath.
“You can chain me, you can torture me, you can even destroy this body – but you can never imprison my mind,” he said.
Each time he referred to China in the oath, he changed the tone to turn it into a question.
Law, who is calling for self-determination for Hong Kong, was one of the main leaders of the 2014 Umbrella Movement rallies which brought tens of thousands to the streets calling for democratic reform.
Two new pro-independence lawmakers, Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching, added their own words before the oath, pledging to serve the “Hong Kong nation”.
Leung wore a flag emblazoned with the words: “Hong Kong is not China”.
Both then took the full oath in English but refused to pronounce “China” correctly, instead calling it “Cheena”.
New lawmaker Eddie Chu, who advocates a public referendum on Hong Kong’s future sovereignty, shouted “Democratic self-determination! Tyranny will perish!” after taking his oath.
Teacher Lau Siu-lai, also a former Umbrella Movement activist, read every word of the oath at a snail’s pace, prompting some pro-Beijing lawmakers to walk out.
The Legco clerk told Leung, Yau and one other pro-democracy lawmaker that he was unable to “administer” their oaths, because they had modified them.
In a statement issued before the oath-taking, the government cited a law that stipulates “any person who declines or neglects to take an oath duly requested which he or she is required to take shall vacate office or be disqualified from entering on it”.
The session was suspended after Law refused to return to his seat, questioning why the clerk had objected to the three lawmakers’ oaths.