Two radical young Hong Kong lawmakers-elect defied a barring order and barged into the Legislative Council (Legco) chamber on Wednesday as democrats formed a human chain around them, forcing the session to be adjourned.
The two lawmakers from the pro-independence party Youngspiration, Sixtus “Baggio” Leung and Yau Wai-Ching, entered the Legco chamber at about 11am on Wednesday.
“If we lose this war … our system is done for. We have no room to retreat,” said Leung, tears welling in his eyes.
In the latest drama in an unfolding controversy, Legco president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen adjourned the session after 30 minutes.
On Tuesday, Andrew Leung delayed the swearing-in of Yau, 25, and Baggio Leung, 30, and temporarily banned them from attending meetings, following weeks of pressure from factions loyal to Beijing.
The Youngspiration pair, who represent a new breed of more radical activists moving into the political mainstream, had their swearing-in oaths invalidated this month over language and a banner that was deemed derogatory to China.
“Democratically elected legislators need to take their oath,” the democrats shouted as they made their way to the meeting, while shielding Yau and Leung.
They called on council president Andrew Leung to step down, while Yau accused him of “destroying the dignity” of Legco, where chaotic scenes erupted as the session descended into farce.
If we lose this war … our system is done for. We have no room to retreat
The South China Morning Post reported that a notice had been put up at the entrance to the chamber warning the duo were forbidden to enter it.
The pair had had their oaths rejected by the chamber’s Secretary-General, Kenneth Chen, on October 19, when they pledged loyalty to “[the] Hong Kong nation”. It was their second attempt, following the first one two weeks ago. Their oath-taking has since been put on hold pending a judicial review, which is expected to be heard on Nov. 3
The government insists lawmakers must pledge loyalty to the city’s mini constitution, the Basic Law, which upholds that Hong Kong is a part of China.
The former British colony of Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under the principle of “one country, two systems”, allowing it wide-ranging freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland.
Once a taboo topic, the issue of independence has gained momentum since pro-democracy protests in late 2014, which paralysed parts of the Asian financial centre, failed to wrangle concessions from Communist Party rulers in Beijing.
The two lawmakers insisted they had the right to enter the chamber to retake their oath of office. Council rules state that members cannot attend meetings or vote before they take the oath.
Legco president Andrew Leung began the meeting by asking the two to leave. He then announced the meeting’s suspension half an hour later. It was later resumed, but business was at a standstill as pro-democracy lawmakers made a show of supporting Yau’s and Baggio Leung’s desire to retake their oaths.
Thousands had gathered at the Tamar park area, a public space adjacent to the Legco building, in a scene reminiscent of the pro-democracy Occupy protests of 2014.
This time, however, the demonstrators belonged to various pro-China groups from sundry provinces of China, according to media reports.
Waving China’s national flags, the protesters gave a thumbs-down sign as they shouted: “Against insulting China, against Hong Kong independence, protect national dignity.”
They also called Yau and Baggio “scum”, holding up photos of them pierced with darts.
New lawmaker Nathan Law, who advocates self-determination for Hong Kong, said that while he may not endorse the pair’s behavior when they first took their oaths, they should be allowed to sit as elected lawmakers.
“What we are trying to protect is people’s rights to vote, and Hong Kong’s legislative system,” Law said.
Last week, the government launched a legal bid to disqualify Yau and Baggio Leung because of their behavior during the first swearing-in session.
Leung said Tuesday night he would defer Baggio and Yau’s oath-taking until the judicial review is complete, which could last months.
Until that time they would not be able to enter the chamber, he said.
“This decision is painful but necessary. If I did not make it, Legco would stop functioning,” Leung said on Tuesday.
Pro-Beijing legislators supported his decision on Wednesday, while critics said he had caved in to pressure from the pro-China camp.
“We hope the Legislative Council can resume order as soon as possible, and respect the decision made by the president,” pro-Beijing lawmaker Starry Lee said.
Additional reporting by Reuters, Agence France-Presse