Hong Kong disqualifies more democratically-elected district councillors over oaths of patriotism

·2 min read
File photo: Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam (AP)
File photo: Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam (AP)

Another 16 democratically-elected district councillors have been disqualified by Hong Kong’s home affairs chief amid a row over a mandatory oath of patriotism that has seen dozens of councillors either resign or get removed.

Initially, the validity of the oaths of 17 councillors was questioned, after which one councillor chose to resign. Sixteen others have now been ousted for “invalid oaths”. They have been removed from their positions with immediate effect.

Ten councillors who were pro-democracy were removed by the government in September.

The rule of a mandatory pledge of allegiance was introduced by Beijing last year following massive protests against the city’s controversial National Security Law. It requires top officials, legislators and judges to swear an oath to remain patriotic.

However, the new law also included provisions to suspend officials and politicians whose oaths were ruled to be “invalid”, which means it showed any activities in the past which authorities could consider “not patriotic”.

Politicians ousted in this way will not be able to contest an election for the next five years and will have to return the salary and benefits they received.

The rule increased tensions in the country, especially among opposition lawmakers, many of whom have been pro-democracy. Municipal councillor seats were mostly won by opposition politicians in the November 2019 elections. They had control of 17 out of 18 districts.

But since then, 260 people resigned before these mandatory oaths of patriotism began in September, and a further 55 have been removed by the home affairs department, according to the Hong Kong Free Press.

This came despite Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam’s promise in December 2019 that pro-democracy councillors would be treated fairly. She had reminded them to “respect the conventions and rules”.

The disqualification of elected representatives on the basis of “patriotism” in Hong Kong is also receiving international condemnation.

The UK said on Thursday that the situation in Hong Kong was “deeply concerning” and called on Ms Lam’s government to uphold freedom of speech.

“It is deeply concerning that 55 district councillors have been disqualified and over 250 pressured to resign for political reasons — the first time that such action has been taken against democratically elected district councillors in the Hong Kong SAR,” foreign minister Liz Truss said.

“The Hong Kong SAR Government must uphold freedom of speech and allow the public a genuine choice of political representatives,” she added.

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