The Hong Kong government ousted four opposition lawmakers, leading to the resignation of most supporters of the pro-democracy camp from the territory’s de facto parliament, which critics say is part of an attack growing against its autonomy.
The government made the decision using new powers granted by Beijing on Wednesday that allow lawmakers to be removed for national security reasons. This includes supporting Hong Kong’s independence or inviting foreign interference in the city’s affairs.
“I urge Hong Kong people not to give up. We cannot give up, ”said Kwok Ka-ki, one of the four ousted lawmakers, who described the disqualifications as“ Hong Kong’s saddest day ”.
Carrie Lam, chief executive of Hong Kong, defended the decision, saying it was “constitutional, legal, reasonable and necessary.”
In Washington, the White House criticized the move. Robert O’Brien, the US national security adviser, said it was more proof that the ‘one country, two systems’ model was a’ fig leaf covering the Chinese Communist Party’s one-party dictatorship in Hong Kong ”.
The development has also sparked a bipartisan condemnation from Capitol Hill where Democrats and Republicans have become increasingly critical of China, particularly over its pro-democracy crackdown in Hong Kong.
“Democracy in Hong Kong is running out of steam. This morning, the unelected and unaccountable standing committee of the National People’s Congress of China took another important step towards stripping the people of Hong Kong of their sacred rights and freedoms, ”said Marco Rubio, a Republican senator from Florida, and Jeff Markey, a Democratic senator from Oregon.
The move comes as opposition politicians, independent journalists, educators and judges in Hong Kong face increasing pressure after Beijing imposed a tough national security law on the territory in June.
Outspoken academics have been forced to resign and a veteran journalist from RTHK, the public broadcaster, was recently arrested after producing a report criticizing the conduct of police during anti-government protests last year.
Critics say the security law threatens the civil and political freedoms granted to the territory when it was handed over by the UK to China in 1997. Beijing supporters argue that it was necessary to restore order to the land. city.
Pro-democracy lawmakers in the Legislative Council have come under particular pressure, with the city postponing assembly elections until next year, citing the coronavirus pandemic.
The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, Beijing’s highest legislative body, on Wednesday granted the Hong Kong government the power to disqualify lawmakers who have promoted or supported independence or refused to recognize China’s sovereignty over the territory.
Those who sought foreign interference in Hong Kong affairs or engaged in other acts endangering national security could also be disqualified, the NPCSC said, without giving further details.
Critics have called these measures a “patriotic test.” “The central government’s decision showed that they have completely abandoned one country, two systems,” said Wu Chi-wai, chairman of the Democratic Party, referring to the model that Hong Kong was allowed a high degree of autonomy. for 50 years after the 1997 transition from British rule to Chinese rule.