Approximately 3,000 legal professionals participated in a silent march on November 8 in Hong Kong. The protest was in response to Beijing’s most recent intervention into the special administrative region that effectively barred two elected Hong Kong pro-independence politicians from taking office, claiming this harms judicial independence.
The dispute flared after the two newly elected council members deliberately misread their oaths of office in October, inserting expletives and draping themselves with “Hong Kong is not China” flags.
The National People’s Congress Standing Committee in Beijing ruled that the two must swear allegiance to Hong Kong as part of China, and that they would be disqualified if they changed the wording of their oath of office or if they failed to take it in a sincere and solemn manner.
China’s state media applauded the move. The Communist Party’s official mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, vowed that “no mercy” would be shown to an intolerable and unrepentant collection of pro-independence “elements” who posed a direct threat to Chinese sovereignty.
The protesters dressed in black to express their anger over the National People’s Congress Standing Committee’s decision. They marched from the High Court to the Final Appeal Court and stood in silent tribute for three minutes.
Participants expressed concern that intervention by Beijing will harm the independence of the judicial system in Hong Kong. Martin Lee, a member of the Basic Law Drafting committee in the 1980s, described it as “a tank crashing into Hong Kong’s legal system.”
There are also concerns over whether the ruling can be applied retrospectively, given that some loyalists are calling for the disqualification of other lawmakers who had their first oaths rejected last month.
Britain returned Hong Kong to Chinese control in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula that gives the territory wide-ranging autonomy, including judicial freedom guided by a mini-constitution called the Basic Law.
The protest was the fourth of its kind staged by lawyers against Beijing’s intervention in the judicial system since the handover in 1997. In 2014, the legal profession also initiated a silent march after Beijing issued a white paper, which said that judges should be patriotic.