Hong Kong’s legislature sat empty of pro-democracy lawmakers Thursday after the bloc said they would resign en masse, turning the semi-autonomous city’s once-feisty legislature into a muted gathering of Beijing loyalists.

The resignations come with the city’s beleaguered pro-democracy movement and avenues of dissent already under sustained attack since Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law earlier this year.

Legislative Council. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Wednesday’s resignations by 15 pro-democracy lawmakers were in protest at the city’s pro-Beijing government banning four of their colleagues from holding office.

The four were disqualified in line with a resolution adopted earlier in the day by China’s parliament authorising the expulsion of any politician deemed a threat to national security.

“Hong Kongers — prepare for a long, long time where there is only one voice in society,” pro-democracy lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting told reporters outside the chamber as he hung a poster attacking the city’s pro-Beijing leader.

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Claudia Mo meets the press before submitting her resignation letter to the Legislative Council president. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“If you are a dissident, get ready for even more pressure.”

Hong Kong’s leader is chosen by pro-Beijing committees, but half of its legislature’s 70 seats are directly elected, offering the city’s 7.5 million residents a rare chance to have their voices heard at the ballot box.

Scuffles and protests would routinely break out in the chamber, with the pro-democracy minority often resorting to filibustering and other tactics to try to halt bills they oppose.

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Legislative Council meeting on the first day without democrats after they announced mass resignations. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The resignations will leave just two legislators outside the pro-Beijing camp.

The United States warned after Wednesday’s move of further sanctions against China, which it said had “flagrantly violated” Hong Kong’s autonomy.

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Critics say the national security law’s broadly worded provisions are a hammer blow to the flickering freedoms that China promised Hong Kong could keep after the end of British colonial rule in 1997.

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