HONG KONG, Apr 26 – Two Hong Kong independence activists who were barred from taking up their seats as lawmakers last year were arrested and charged Wednesday over chaos at the city’s parliament. Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching were arrested at their apartments Wednesday morning and were charged with illegal assembly and attempted forceful entry into the legislative chamber, Yau told reporters.
The pair belong to a new movement calling for a complete split from China for semi-autonomous Hong Kong, as concerns grow the city’s freedoms are under threat. The calls for independence grew out of the failure of the mass Umbrella Movement rallies in 2014 to secure political reform and have infuriated Beijing.
The latest arrests come after nine pro-democracy activists — including student protesters and lawmakers — were charged last month for their roles in the 2014 protests in a move slammed by rights groups. The crackdown also comes ahead of an expected visit by China’s President Xi Jinping to mark the 20th anniversary of the handover of the city by Britain back to China in 1997 on July 1.
The charges against Yau and Baggio relate to them trying to barge in to a legislative council meeting in November after they had been barred pending a court decision over their disqualification. They first ran into the main chamber before security tried to bundle them out.
Once removed, they and their supporters tried to push their way into a committee room to which the disrupted session had been moved. In the ensuing chaos, they clashed with security with at least three staff taken to hospital and police called in. Speaking to reporters outside the police station where they were charged, Leung said they had done nothing wrong as they should have been allowed into the chamber while they awaited the result of their court hearing.
He called the charges “totally unreasonable”. “Authorities suppressing the will of the people is abundantly clear,” added Yau. Despite being elected by the public, the pair were never allowed to take up their seats after protesting at their swearing-in ceremony last October. They deliberately misread their oaths of office, inserted expletives and draped themselves with “Hong Kong is not China” flags.
Beijing intervened to ensure they were not given the chance to retake their oaths by making a special “interpretation” of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution. The ruling said that any oath taker who does not follow the prescribed wording of the pledge, “or takes the oath in a manner which is not sincere or not solemn”, should be disqualified.
After the interpretation, Hong Kong’s High Court ruled to disqualify them both. That move was heavily criticised by pro-democracy activists and legal experts as a massive blow to Hong Kong’s judicial independence and sparked demonstrations by both pro-Beijing and pro-independence groups. Yau and Baggio were bailed and will appear in court Friday. — AFP