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Hong Kong court disqualifies separatist lawmakers over 'invalid' oath

A Hong Kong court has disqualified two newly elected pro-independence lawmakers after they used anti-China insults when being sworn into office. The decision comes on the back of Beijing's legal intervention last week.

Seperatist legislators Sixtus "Baggio" Leung, aged 30, and Yau Wai-ching, 25, sparked controversy during their swearing in ceremony last month when they deliberately misread their oaths, substituted derogatory terms for "China" and draped themselves in flags emblazoned with "Hong Kong is not China."

Hong Kong's leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-Ying, and Justice Minister Rimsky Yuen filed a legal challenge aimed at banning the two "Youngspiration" party members from taking their seats on the Legislative Council.

A Hong Kong High Court judge sided with the prosecution on Tuesday, ruling that the defendants violated sections of Hong Kong's Basic Law constitution, as well as laws covering officials taking oaths.

"Mr. Leung and Ms. Yau have been disqualified from assuming and have vacated the office of a member of the Legislative Council," Judge Thomas Au said in a written judgment. "The oaths purportedly taken by Mr. Leung and Ms Yau on October 12 2016... are invalid and void and have no legal effect."

Beijing intervenes

The decision was preempted by Beijing's ruling last week, after it circumvented Hong Kong's courts to hand down its own interpretation of the Basic Law. Beijing ruled that Hong Kong legislators must swear allegiance to the region as part of China.

The ruling also stated that an oath taker who does not recite the precise wording, "or takes the oath in a manner which is not sincere or not solemn," should be disqualified.

The decision was slammed by pro-democracy activists and legal experts, who interpret it as a major setback to Hong Kong's judicial independence and liberties. After Beijing's intervention, hundreds of Hong Kong lawyers took to the streets in silent protest.

Ahead of the ruling, Leung Chun-Ying called for a zero-tolerance policy against pro-independence activists.

"Those who are advocating for independence and other forms of splitting from the country are a small minority but I cannot lower my guard and cannot [give them] any tolerance," Hong Kong's leader told Chinese news agency Xinhua on Monday. "Members of the Hong Kong independence [movement] cannot appear in the political system."

Beijing's intervention will affect another review brought to court by a taxi driver questioning the sincerity of oaths taken by a further eight Hong Kong legislators. Another claim has questioned whether Leung Chun-Ying himself took a proper oath.

Hong Kong has been steeped in protests in recent years. In late 2014, the Occupy Central group led a series of demonstrations, known as the Umbrella Revolution, which saw tens of thousands protest against proposed reforms to Hong Kong's electoral system. The protests were broken up without any political concessions from the government.

After being handed back to China from Britain in 1997, Hong Kong's "one country, two systems" deal protects its freedoms for 50 years.

dm/msh (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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