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Beijing’s interpretation of the Basic Law on Monday effectively barring two pro-independence lawmakers from taking their oath of office comes before a Hong Kong court had even had an opportunity to rule on a judicial review on the issue.
A judicial review case began on Nov. 3 and concluded on Nov. 4, with government lawyers arguing that the lawmakers who advocate a split from China should be banned from taking up their seats.
At the judicial review seeking to disqualify Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus “Baggio” Leung from the legislature at Hong Kong’s High Court, the government’s counsel insisted authorities had not asked Beijing to step in.
On Monday, the Hong Kong Bar Association chair Winnie Tam described the interpretation this time as “too detailed, specifying do’s and don’ts,” and is “rather quite unusual” and “not appropriate”.
Tam said on Sunday that if the interpretation of the Basic Law can clarify the law, “it is not necessarily a bad thing”.
“(An interpretation of the law) is a response, when you exercise freedom granted by law to the maximum, and touch the bottom line,” Tam said.
Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen, president of the Legislative Council, said: “I look forward to the court’s judgement on cases involving the article (104) expediently, so that the Legislative Council can resume normal operation.”
On the dozens of lawmakers who modified the wording, Leung said: “The interpretation lists the objective requirements for oath-taking.”
“Anyone who took the oath on Oct. 12 would need to fulfill the law in Hong Kong. The interpretation clarified the meaning and ambiguity (of the law), and everyone can follow up based on it.”
But the interpretation, which states that the oath must be taken accurately, completely and solemnly and sincerely, represents some of the worst privately held fears of senior judges and some government officials in Hong Kong, according to sources close to them.
The Hong Kong Bar Association has previously said an intervention by Beijing now, while a local court was hearing the case, would deal a severe blow to the city’s judicial independence and undermine international confidence in Hong Kong’s autonomy.
Pro-Beijing legislator Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, representing West Kowloon, said on Nov. 3 that an interpretation of the Basic Law would be inappropriate. Leung is a member of the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong.
Hong Kong’s justice secretary Rimsky Yuen said the government still needed time to see if the interpretation would carry any retrospective effect on other lawmakers such as Demosisto chairman Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Democracy Groundwork’s Lau Siu-lai.
Lau is possibly at risk because she was sworn in on her second attempt, while Law is in danger since he ran on a self-determination platform during the Legislative Council election. Beijing considers this stance as equivalent to pro-independence.
Yuen was speaking after China’s parliament passed an interpretation of Hong Kong’s Basic Law that says lawmakers must swear allegiance to the city as part of China, Beijing’s most direct intervention in the territory’s legal and political system since the 1997 handover.
“I have every confidence … the judiciary will defend the law and uphold the rule of law,” Yuen said at a press conference.
The oath-taking controversy made waves in the former colony, where the topic of independence from China was once regarded as taboo, but has come to the fore since the pro-democracy protests in 2014 that failed to secure any concessions from Beijing.
Additional reporting by Reuters