Hong Kong’s pro-democracy lawmakers said Wednesday they would all resign, after China gave the city the power to disqualify politicians deemed a threat to national security and four of their colleagues were ousted.
The resignations are the latest blow to the city’s beleaguered pro-democracy movement, which has been under sustained attack since China imposed a sweeping national security law, including arrests for social media posts and activists fleeing overseas.
“We, from the pro-democracy camp, will stand with our colleagues. We will resign en masse,” Wu Chi-wai, convener of the 15 remaining pro-democracy legislators, told a press conference.
Earlier Wednesday the Hong Kong government ousted four pro-democracy members minutes after one of China’s top lawmaking committees ruled that authorities in the semi-autonomous city could remove any legislator deemed a threat to national security without going through the courts.
Hong Kong’s leader is chosen by pro-Beijing committees, but half of its legislature’s 70 seats are directly elected, offering the city’s 7.5 million residents a rare chance to have their voices heard at the ballot box.
The mass resignation will leave the legislature composed almost entirely of those toeing Beijing’s line.
The inability of Hong Kongers to elect their leaders and all of their lawmakers has been at the heart of swelling opposition to Beijing’s rule that sparked months of huge and often violent protests last year.
China passed the security law in June to quell the protests, describing it as a “sword” hanging over the head of its critics.
Pro-democracy member Claudia Mo said Beijing was trying to “sound the death knell of Hong Kong’s democracy fight.”
“They would think that from now on, anyone they found to be politically incorrect or unpatriotic … they could just oust you,” she said.
“We are quitting this term, this legislature, we’re not quitting Hong Kong’s fight.”
Chris Patten, the city’s last colonial governor, also criticized the removals.
“Once again, (Chinese President) Xi Jinping’s regime has demonstrated its total hostility to democratic accountability, and those who wish to stand up for it,” he said.
“If observing due process, protecting systems and functions and fighting for democracy and human rights would lead to the consequence of being disqualified, it would be my honor,” Dennis Kwok, one of the ousted four, said after his removal Wednesday.
The quartet had initially been banned from running in the city’s legislative elections – which were scheduled to be held September 6 – after calling on the US to impose sanctions on Hong Kong officials.
Those elections were postponed, with authorities blaming the coronavirus.
Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam said the disqualifications were “constitutional, legal, reasonable and necessary.”
More than 10,000 people were arrested during the pro-democracy protests, and the courts are now filled with trials – many of them involving opposition lawmakers and prominent activists.
Critics say the law’s broadly worded provisions are a hammer blow to the flickering freedoms that China promised Hong Kong could keep after the end of British colonial rule in 1997.