Hong Kong has disqualified four opposition members of its legislature for “endangering national security”, raising the prospect of a walk-out by pro-democracy legislators who oppose what they see as Beijing’s ever tighter grip on the semi-autonomous city.
The expulsions on Wednesday came shortly after China’s parliament adopted a resolution allowing the city’s government to expel legislators deemed to be supporting Hong Kong independence, colluding with foreign forces or threatening national security, without having to go through the courts.
Hong Kong’s government issued a statement identifying the disqualified politicians as Alvin Yeung, Dennis Kwok, Kwok Ka-ki and Kenneth Leung, adding that they “will lose their qualification as legislators immediately”.
Carrie Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong, told reporters that the disqualifications were “constitutional, legal, reasonable and necessary”.
“We have doubts about their abilities to perform their duties. If they are unable to uphold the Basic Law, and to support Hong Kong, of course they are not qualified to be legislators,” she said, referring to the city’s mini-constitution.
The four politicians condemned the move at a news conference.
“In terms of legality and constitutionality, obviously from our point of view this is clearly in breach of the Basic Law and our rights to participate in public affairs, and a failure to observe due process,” said Dennis Kwok.
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.
Tom Grundy, editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong Free Press, said elected legislators had been disqualified in the city before.
“But for the first time, this is not going through the courts,” he told Al Jazeera. “The legislature was halted just as the news came through and it appears [the move] cannot be challenged legally … And this may now leave the legislature without any opposition at all. We understand that in the coming hours, the whole pro-democracy camp are set to quit.”
Grundy was referring to a threat by the 19 democratic members of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council or LegCo to resign en masse if any of them was disqualified. Such a move would leave the LegCo with only pro-Beijing politicians – who already make up a majority in the chamber – and allow them to pass bills favoured by Beijing without opposition.
Al Jazeera’s Divya Gopalan, reporting from Hong Kong, said the resolution from the Chinese parliament paving the way for Wednesday’s disqualifications came at the request of Lam’s government.
“This sets a troubling precedent for Hong Kong,” said Gopalan. “The Hong Kong government has often dealt with its issues by itself. And for the Hong Kong government to now go to Beijing with this, and for Beijing to act upon this, sends out a message that Hong Kong no longer controls its own affairs.”
China denies curbing rights and freedoms in the global financial hub, but authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing have moved swiftly to stifle dissent after anti-government protests flared in June last year and plunged the city into crisis.
On June 30, China introduced sweeping national security legislation to the city, punishing anything it considers subversion, secessionism, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.
Since then, authorities have removed some pro-democracy books from libraries, banned certain songs and other activities in schools, declared some slogans illegal and raided the newsroom of an anti-government tabloid.
Wednesday’s resolution from the Chinese parliament comes amid frustration in pro-Beijing circles in Hong Kong over what they see as opposition “delay tactics” to obstruct legislation.
Filibustering has long been common in Hong Kong where only half of the seats in the legislature are elected.
This month, eight opposition politicians were arrested in connection with a meeting in the LegCo in May that descended into chaos.
Earlier in the year, the four now-disqualified politicians were also barred from running for legislative elections originally scheduled for September, prior to the government stating that it would postpone the elections by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The four legislators later remained in their posts following the postponement.
The election delay was criticised by the pro-democracy camp as an attempt to block them from taking a majority of seats in the legislature.