Pro-democracy citizen groups representing 16 professions have issued a joint statement in local newspapers opposing Beijing’s decision to interpret Hong Kong’s mini-constitution in resolving the recent oath controversy.

The statement came one day after China’s legislature, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC), voted on and passed The NPCSC’s interpretation of the Basic Law Article 104 of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region with unanimous support on Monday. The interpretation has been criticised for effectively amending the Basic Law and directly applying Chinese national laws to Hong Kong, a power not accorded to Beijing under the One Country, Two Systems policy.

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16 professional groups bought ads in local newspapers in protest of the NPCSC interpretation. Photo: HKFP.

Monday’s statement by 16 professional groups – including lawyers, doctors, bankers, teachers and architects – said: “Beijing destroys the rule of law. Hong Kong is world city no more.”

Edward Chan of Financier Conscience told HKFP that the purpose of buying advertisements in local newspapers is to raise awareness on the seriousness of the issue.

“Many in Hong Kong may not realise the serious implications of the interpretation. The government and [pro-Beijing politicians] have one-sidedly voiced support for the interpretation,” Chan said. “We worry that they would agree that it is justified on national security grounds and not think about the interpretation critically.”

Chan said the interpretation infringed on Hong Kong’s judicial independence and damaged the rule of law. “The issue could have been solved with local laws. There was no need for an interpretation,” he said.

“The rule of law is very important to every sector. In particular, the finance sector cannot function without the rule of law,” Chan added. “Today they can interpret Article 104, tomorrow it may be about private property or changing the regulatory framework for any reason.”

‘Most unfortunate’

The Bar Association expressed “deep regrets” on Monday regarding Beijing’s interference. It described the interpretation of Article 104 of the Basic Law as “unnecessary and inappropriate,” on the grounds that the Oaths and Declarations Ordinance has sufficiently reflected the spirit of the impugned provision.

Winnie Tam.
The Bar Association Chair Winnie Tam. Photo: DoJ.

In addition, the Bar said, the issue of the legal consequences of an invalid oath has already entered into the judicial process and the court is writing up a judgment.

“The Bar considers the timing of the making of the Interpretation at this highly sensitive moment of by the NPCSC is most unfortunate, in the perception of the international community in the authority and independence of the judiciary is liable to be undermined, as would public confidence in the rule of law in Hong Kong.” it said.

Support for the interpretation

Dozens of pro-China groups and individuals also bought advertisements in local newspapers on Tuesday in support of the NPCSC interpretation.

“We are determined to defend the central government’s protection of its core national interests… and eradicate Hong Kong independence forces in accordance with law,” said a joint statement by overseas Chinese groups, based in a wide array of countries such as the United States, Canada, France, Norway, Laos, Madagascar and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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Pro-China groups bought ads in local newspapers in support of the NPCSC interpretation. Photo: HKFP.

Another advertisement said: “We are determined to defend and support the NPCSC interpretation of Article 104 of the Basic Law. We strongly demand the Hong Kong government bar those who insult Chinese people and deny their identity as Chinese people from running for the Legislative Council in accordance with the law.”

See also: ‘Terrible precedent’: Lawyers say Beijing has effectively amended, not interpreted, the Basic Law

A silent march held by the legal sector is scheduled for Tuesday. This will be the fourth silent protest organised by Hong Kong’s lawyers since the 1997 handover. Chan said representatives from the 16 professional groups will be attending the rally.

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.