Seventeen more opposition district councillors had their allegiance to the city challenged by the authorities following an oath-taking ceremony on Friday, with another four automatically unseated for refusing to turn up.
The latest challenges came just hours after 16 other opposition councillors were disqualified over similar objections lodged following an oath-taking ceremony earlier this week.
Friday’s developments brought the total number of opposition district councillors unseated since the oath-taking ceremonies began to 39.
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Among the 17 facing further enquiries from the Home Affairs Bureau is former Democratic Party lawmaker Roy Kwong Chun-yu. The future of his party – the opposition camp’s largest – has been uncertain of late given internal disagreements about whether to field candidates in December’s Legislative Council poll, the first popular election since Beijing’s political overhaul designed to ensure only “patriots” can stand for office.
Another Democrat, Lam Siu-fai, was among the 13 opposition and independent councillors whose oaths were validated on Friday, but several other party members have already been ousted in previous rounds.
A total of 75 district councillors from the New Territories West – made up of Tsuen Wan, Tuen Mun, Yuen Long, Kwai Tsing and outlying islands – were invited to take part in the oath-taking ceremony on Friday, according to a spokesman from the Home Affairs Bureau. Caspar Tsui Ying-wai, the bureau’s secretary, administered the oath.
The oath-taking requirement previously applied only to the most senior officials, lawmakers and judges, but was expanded earlier this year to rank-and-file public servants and district councillors as part of the implementation of the Beijing-imposed national security law and its “patriots” principle.
The district councils had been of particular concern for the authorities, as they were the last remaining stronghold of the opposition, which won control of 17 of the 18 municipal-level bodies in an election held at the height of the anti-government protests of 2019.
Friday’s ceremony was the fourth and final one since they began last month following the passage in May of the Public Offices (Candidacy and Taking Up Offices) (Miscellaneous Amendments) Ordinance 2021, which laid out a list of what is and is not acceptable for district councillors.
The home affairs spokesman said 51 councillors had their oaths validated on Friday without issue. However, Li Chung-chi of the Yuen Long District Council, Kwok Tsz-kin of the Kwai Tsing District Council, and Poon Chi-kin and Wong Tak-yuen of the Tuen Mun District Council were all automatically disqualified after they failed to show up.
The authorities are processing two other requests for rescheduling, and will also make separate arrangements later, if needed, for Leung Kam-wai, of the Kwai Tsing district, as he is currently in jail.
Lam, a committee member of the now defunct alliance behind the city’s annual Tiananmen vigil, is in detention awaiting trial under the national security law for allegedly failing to cooperate with a police investigation into the group.
The home affairs spokesman also confirmed on Friday that 16 councillors from the New Territories East had their oaths invalidated after a review of responses they provided to a series of questions about various political issues, including their involvement in an unofficial opposition primary last year and protest slogans they were said to have displayed. The questions were similar to those issued to the 17 from New Territories West on Friday.
“After considering the written replies from the District Council members concerned and all relevant information, the oath administrator, based on the principles laid down by … the relevant legal provisions, determined that the oaths taken by 16 District Council members were invalid,” the spokesman said.
Raymond Li Chi-wang, chairman of the Sha Tin District Council and one of the 16 ousted on Friday, called the outcome “expected”, and questioned whether the authorities had actually spent any time studying their responses before reaching their decision.
He said he had submitted his responses an hour before the government office closed, and was told he had been disqualified two hours after it opened the following morning.
“That would leave just three to four hours for them to do their job,” said Li, who noted he was not given a detailed explanation for the decision. “Is that sufficient time for them to study my reasons before disqualifying me?”
The 16 disqualified councillors, who first took their oaths on Monday, were: Li, William Shek, Lai Tsz-yan, Lo Tak-ming, Wong Ho-fung, Ng Kam-hung, Kudama Ng Ting-lam, George Wong Hok-lai and Cheng Tsuk-man from the Sha Tin District Council; Richard Chan Chun-chit, Olive Chan Wai-ka and So Tat-leung of the Tai Po District Council; and Ryan Lee Yin-ho, Lee Ka-yui, Ricky Or Yiu-lam and Valerie Wong Cheuk-nga of the Sai Kung District Council.
Two other opposition councillors – jailed activist Herman Yiu Kwan-ho of Tai Po, and Wong Hoi-ying of North district – did not attend Monday’s ceremony, and authorities have not said whether other arrangements would be made for them to take their oaths, or given any updates on their status.
As was the case with the previous rounds of challenges, the 17 councillors whose loyalty was questioned on Friday were asked about protest slogans they had displayed and their involvement in the unofficial opposition primary last year for would-be candidates for Legislative Council.
The Legco election, however, was subsequently postponed until this December, and 47 opposition figures have since been charged under the national security law in connection with the primary, which authorities have characterised as a subversive plot.
One of the 17 members, Samuel Lai Kwok-wing, from Yuen Long, said he would answer the questions put to him by authorities, but did not expect a fair shake.
“The fact that they ask you questions shows that they are ready to disqualify you,” he said.
Another councillor, Kenneth Cheung Kam-hung, from Tuen Mun, denied insinuations that displaying the protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong” – deemed illegal by the government – was an indication of separatist leanings.
“From the very beginning till now, just like any protester who yells that slogan, it’s merely calling for the return of freedom, the rule of law, the freedom of the press that we used to enjoy,” he said.
Before the oath-taking ceremonies even began, some 260 opposition councillors resigned after rumours circulated that they would be forced to pay back their entire accrued salaries if they were ousted over the pledges. Others have been jailed or fled the city.
This article 17 opposition Hong Kong district councillors have oaths of allegiance challenged; 20 more disqualified first appeared on South China Morning Post