As chief executive Leung Chun-ying leaves office, HKFP reflects on ten unprecedented incidents – political events that the city had not witnessed since the 1997 handover – that took place during his tenure. See Part I here.
November 15, 2016: The first time legislators were disqualified from their posts by court ruling.
On September 4, 2016, Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching of the localist Youngspiration party were elected into the Hong Kong Legislative Council on a platform of national self-determination and protecting the city’s local interests.
A month earlier, prominent localist leader Edward Leung became the last of five candidates barred from running in the legislative elections due to his political views. But he hatched a last-minute plan, asking Baggio Leung to throw himself in the ring as a “substitute candidate.” He succeeded.
The pair were set to take their oaths of office and declare their allegiance to the “Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China” on October 12.
But that morning, as they walked onto the Legislative Council podium, they unfurled flags carrying the slogan “Hong Kong is not China.” Taking their oaths, Yau coined a vulgar term – “People’s Re-fucking of Chee-na.”
Amid uproar in the pro-Beijing camp, the government launched an unprecedented judicial review to oust the pair. It cited Basic Law Article 104 and the Oaths and Declarations Ordinance. The latter stipulates disqualification as the consequence of failing to take an oath.
On November 4, Beijing notified the High Court that it would interpret Basic Law Article 104, using its constitutionally-given power to “clarify” how the law was to be read. Three days later, the definition of taking an oath was announced: “Sincerely and solemnly,” as well as “accurately and completely.” An oath-taker fails when he or she “intentionally reads out words which do not accord with the wording of the oath.”
On November 15, Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching became the first legislators to be disqualified by a court ruling. The following month, the government launched a second judicial review, this time to oust pro-democracy legislators Leung Kwok-hung, Nathan Law, Lau Siu-lai and Edward Yiu.
See also: HK20: Interview – Beijing’s restraint with Hong Kong’s rule of law has expired, says law prof. Johannes Chan
Legal scholar Johannes Chan told HKFP that Beijing’s move amounted to direct interference in Hong Kong’s judiciary. He said Beijing was sending out a message that fighting local lawsuits is a pointless exercise, as it would simply reverse any unfavourable judgements.
The legal challenge to oust the second group of legislators remains ongoing, as does Leung and Yau’s appeal.
Pro-democracy legislators Tanya Chan and Shiu Ka-chun are also facing prosecution for their roles in the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy protests. Localist lawmaker Cheng Chung-tai is on trial for turning the Chinese and Hong Kong flags upside-down. The fallout from Leung Kwok-hung and Nathan Law’s involvement in Wednesday’s Golden Bauhinia protest continues.
February 28, 2017: The first time a sitting chief executive simultaneously became a national leader.
As court battles raged on, Leung made a surprise announcement in December 9, 2016 that he would not seek a second term as Hong Kong’s leader, stepping down at the end of the following June.
For first chief executive Tung, retirement meant a seat as vice chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a national advisory body. Leung’s immediate predecessor Donald Tsang did not receive any such honour.
But on February 28, 2017, Leung became a member of the CPPCC. On March 13, he became a vice chairman.
“Leung will now serve as chief executive in his capacity as a national leader,” said pro-democracy lawmaker Wu Chi-wai in a statement.
March 6, 2017: The first time a sitting chief executive sued for defamation.
In particular, legislators urged Beijing to reconsider Leung’s entrance into the CPPCC due to a saga surrounding his acceptance of a HK$50 million payment from engineering firm UGL earlier in his tenure. Leung did not declare the sum until Australian newspaper The Age exposed it in 2014. He claimed it was made as part of a non-compete agreement.
As rumours circulated about an Independent Commission Against Corruption probe, the watchdog’s acting operations head Rebecca Li was suddenly removed in July 2016. She later resigned.
Hong Kong’s legislature also formed an investigative committee. But in a May 2017 debacle, pro-Beijing committee vice chairman Holden Chow was found to have allowed Leung to edit a document on the scope of the investigation himself.
Pro-democracy legislator Kenneth Leung went a step further. He told reporters on March 1, 2017 that the chief executive was “perhaps under investigation by the Hong Kong or foreign tax revenue departments.”
Leung Chun-ying sent him a legal threat, and received no response. In an unprecedented move for a sitting chief executive, he sued the accountancy sector lawmaker for defamation on March 6, 2017.
March 16, 2017: The first rioting convictions in a political protest.
As Kenneth Leung faces a defamation lawsuit, dozens of protesters face charges for their involvement in the violent Mong Kok clashes on February 8-9, 2016.
On the first night of Lunar New Year, hygiene officers attempted to clear hawkers in the busy commercial district. They had traditionally turned a blind eye on festive days. Localist groups intervened. Quarrels with the police descended into violence, as bricks were thrown and gunshots were fired into the air.
On March 16, 2017, the District Court convicted Sit Tat-wing, Hui Ka-ki, and Mak Tsz-hei of rioting, and sentenced them to three years in jail. Sit, Hui and Mak were the first to be convicted of rioting in Hong Kong since a clash between inmates at a drug treatment centre in 2000. They were the first to face the charge for political activities since the handover.
Dozens of others face a variety of charges including assault, resisting police, illegal assembly, criminal damage, arson, and behaving in a disorderly manner in public.
Speaking on the legality of protests, scholar Johannes Chan told HKFP that Hong Kong has always had strict public order laws, passed after the 1967 leftist riots: “The prosecutions today are not too different to those of 30-40 years ago. Back then, [left-wing student who eventually became home affairs secretary] Tsang Tak-sing was jailed for handing out leaflets.”
“Of course society has been transformed… laws have become more liberal,” said Chan. “Since the mid-1980s, the government has relaxed [its prosecutions].”
“Are there more [prosecutions] now? Yes, partly because society has pushed people towards extremes. When everyone uses violence, then from a governance perspective there’s no choice but to prosecute protesters, because otherwise [violence] will spread.”
“In recent years, the courts have been handing out heavier sentences, whether against police or protesters… they are sending the message that they cannot allow this behaviour to spread.”
But Chan added that if the government only relies on prosecutions, tensions between Hong Kong’s political camps will only worsen.
“Before Occupy began, did the government try to communicate with the people who were starting it? No. I once asked [home affairs secretary] Lau Kong-wah whether he ever spoke to [Occupy mastermind] Benny Tai, who had by that point been talking about Occupy for a year. He said no.”
“If it was [final British governor] Chris Patten, he would have invited you up to Government House for tea within a month. At least everyone would then know each other’s bottom line, and there’s a channel for communication.”
May 9, 2017: The first time the annual July 1 democracy march was denied the use of its regular starting venue.
The annual July 1 democracy march from Causeway Bay’s Victoria Park to the government headquarters traces its origins to 1997, when it attracted only 3,000 participants. But in 2003, when the government threatened to enact the Article 23 national security law, 500,000 Hongkongers took to the streets.
“When you went to Causeway Bay, you were dressed in black and so was everyone else,” prominent radio host Li Wei-ling told HKFP. “The feeling of camaraderie was so strong.” She added that the 2003 march amounted to an enlightenment for civil society in Hong Kong. This was because it had concrete results – the shelving of Article 23.
But for the first time since the landmark 2003 rally, on the upcoming 20th anniversary of the handover, marchers will not be allowed to use the football courts at Victoria Park as a starting point.
On May 9, 2017, organisers received notice from the Leisure and Cultural Services Department that the pro-Beijing group Celebrations Association had booked the venue for a technology exhibition to celebrate the handover. The department prioritised it because it is a registered charity.
The organisers of the march were later granted use of a nearby grass lawn to begin the march, This sparked protests from the Celebrations Association, warning there could be chaos.
As protesters march on July 1, Hong Kong’s new chief executive Carrie Lam will take office in the presence of Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is visiting the city. So ends Leung Chun-ying’s tumultuous five-year tenure.
Key developments during Leung’s tenure that were not unprecedented.
September 28, 2014, Tear gas: 87 canisters of tear gas were used against protesters in a move that kicked off the Occupy protests. But the Hong Kong police also deployed the weapon against demonstrators – notably Korean farmers – protesting against the World Trade Organisation, which held a conference in Wanchai in 2005.
December 30, 2015, Cross-border disappearances: Lee Bo became the last of five men associated with Causeway Bay Books – a publisher of sensitive political titles – to be detained in mainland China. His case caused widespread concern as he disappeared from Hong Kong. But veteran journalist Ching Cheong told HKFP that mainland officials have engaged in cross-border kidnappings for decades.
Fragments of these stories have been reported in the media. In 2008, mainland activist and United States resident Zhou Yongjun was arrested after entering Hong Kong through Macau. He then reappeared in mainland China, where he was jailed. In prison, Zhou wrote a letter alleging that Hong Kong officers handed him to mainland officials despite the lack of an extradition agreement. The government declined to comment on the case.
Pan Weixi and his wife became Hong Kong residents following a case of fraud in Guangzhou in 1999. But in 2013, they disappeared and reappeared in custody in their home city. “Pan Weixi was recently arrested by Guangdong police in Hong Kong,” stated an article of Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis Daily.
“Many more were taken across the border due to ‘economic problems’ [corruption and bribery], as the Communist Party tried to implement its own disciplinary regulations,” Ching said. “People were taken to the [now-defunct] Wing Lok Pier in Sai Wan, and taken to the mainland via speedboat.”
“But many of these people were affiliated with party institutions, so their relatives didn’t call the police, and nobody knows.”
November 7, 2016, Beijing’s intervention in ongoing legal proceedings: Beijing’s fifth interpretation of the Basic Law took place as the High Court deliberated on a judicial review to disqualify localists Yau Wai-ching and Baggio Leung from the legislature. But this was not the first time Beijing intervened in ongoing proceedings.
In March 2005, pro-democracy legislator Albert Chan asked the High Court to determine whether chief executive Donald Tsang was beginning a new term by replacing predecessor Tung Chee-hwa, who had stepped down. But in May, Tsang asked Beijing to interpret the law. Beijing ruled that Tsang was merely serving out the rest of Tung’s term. Chan withdrew his judicial review shortly thereafter.