Hong Kong unseated four pro-democracy lawmakers Wednesday after Beijing gave sweeping new powers to local officials to quash political dissent, intensifying a monthslong clampdown on protests and the opposition.
The four lawmakers — Dennis Kwok, Kwok Ka-ki, Kenneth Leung and Alvin Yeung — had previously been barred from running for reelection this year.
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy lawmakers had said this week that they would all resign if Beijing disqualified any members of their group. Such a move could cast the local legislature into disarray and hobble democracy supporters in the legislature, one of the last forums for opposition after street demonstrations have been largely banned this year.
The new powers allow the Hong Kong government to remove lawmakers directly, without going through the courts.
Hong Kong, a semiautonomous Chinese territory, this summer postponed September elections for the city’s legislators for a full year, citing risks of infection amid the coronavirus pandemic. Critics said that the authorities feared an electoral defeat of the pro-Beijing camp, especially after a wave of pro-democracy candidates unseated longtime establishment officials in a landslide victory during district elections last year.
Leung, who represents the accountancy sector, said Monday that disqualifications would make Hong Kong’s elected legislative body ineffective.
“There will be no future for this legislature,” he said. “We have made a very solemn decision after thorough discussion.” He added that the disqualifications were yet an “unconfirmed scenario,” based on news reports.
In July, the Hong Kong authorities barred the four lawmakers from seeking re-election after they called on US officials to impose sanctions on those responsible for alleged rights abuses in Hong Kong. The group said that they made those remarks months before a wide-reaching national security law, which broadly criminalizes subversion, took effect in July.
They remain in office despite the qualifications because of rules that had allowed current lawmakers to serve in a one-year term after the election postponement.
Kwok said Monday that potential disqualifications would undermine Hong Kong’s legal system and further degrade its relative autonomy from China. “It seems like those in power cannot tolerate opposition any more,” he said.