More than 1,000 lawyers have taken to the streets of Hong Kong, marching in protest of Beijing's heavy-handed interference in the local political system.

China's National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) yesterday officially adopted a new interpretation of the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administration Region; the decision will effectively bar at least two pro-independence legislators from taking their seats in the Legislative Council (LegCo).

The interpretation will prevent Sixtus "Baggio" Leung Chung-hang (梁頌恆) and Yau Wai-ching (游蕙禎) from entering Hong Kong’s parliament. The newly-elected lawmakers are at the center of the oath-taking controversy after modifying their oaths and using derogatory terms against China in October. Other legislators may also be impacted.

Local and foreign lawyers, dressed in black, marched in downtown Hong Kong in silence this evening in protest of the decision.

The courts usually have the right of final adjudication in Hong Kong, but the NPCSC’s interpretation overrides the judicial system.

The Hong Kong Bar Association has criticized the interpretation, the fifth of its kind since the 1997 handover. It says Beijing’s move was “unnecessary,” and “would do more harm than good.”

“The Bar considers the timing of the making of the interpretation at this highly sensitive moment by the NPCSC is most unfortunate, in that the perception of the international community in the authority and independence of the judiciary is liable to be undermined, as would public confidence in the rule of law in Hong Kong,” the association says.

It says Hong Kong already has the legal provisions to deal with the oath-taking issue, and it notes that the relevant cases have been argued before the court and are awaiting determination.

Pro-democracy political parties have also spoken out against the interpretation.

The Civic Party (公民黨) said the interpretation has “sacrificed” the rule of law in Hong Kong and its ability to deal with issues independently. It also said the interpretation would oppress parties and legislators that are not pro-Beijing.

Student localist political group Studentlocalism (學生動源) said the decision was unconstitutional and deprives the right to office of lawmakers who were publically elected. It also stated that the decision itself might violate the Basic Law since it came before the court could rule on the issue.



Hundreds of members from the legal sector stage a silent protest outside the Court of Final Appeal, against Beijing's most direct intervention in Hong Kong's legal and political system since the 1997 handover, in Hong Kong, China November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Support for Beijing

The NPCSC adopted the interpretation of Article 104 of the Basic Law after a unanimous vote, Chinese state-owned Xinhua reports, and publicized it at a press conference yesterday. Article 104 states that legislators must swear allegiance to the “Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.”

The decision requires lawmakers to read their oaths “completely and solemnly” and exactly as written. Those who alter the words of their oaths or deliver them in an “insincere or undignified manner” will not be allowed to retake them and will be forced from office, according to a copy of the interpretation published by Xinhua.

Zhang Rongshun (張榮順), vice chairman of the NPCSC legislative affairs commission, said the decision was “necessary” to protect the “dignity” of Hong Kong’s legal system, The Wall Street Journal reports.

A spokesperson with the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of China’s State Council said the adoption of the interpretation of the Basic Law was "absolutely necessary" and timely, as the interpretation demonstrates the central government's firm determination and will in opposition to “Hong Kong independence,” Xinhua reports.

Li Fei (李飛), chair of the Hong Kong parliament's Basic Law Committee, told the local press yesterday that the nature of “Hong Kong independence” is to split the country, which violates the “one country, two systems” policy, Reuters reports.

Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung (梁振英) also gave his support to the interpretation, saying “any proposition about Hong Kong’s future must be in accordance with the Basic Law” and “the constitutional fact is that Hong Kong has been part of China.”

On Sunday night, a mass protest against the interpretation was held in Hong Kong and some protesters clashed with the police. Organizers say the protest drew about 13,000 people while police estimated about 8,000, according to a South China Morning Post report. Four were arrested for allegedly obstructing police officers. Police used pepper spray to quell the crowd.

First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: Olivia Yang