Some Hong Kong pro-democracy district councillors have decided to swear a new oath of allegiance to the government despite the departure of dozens of fellow democrats before the new requirement was passed in the legislature on Wednesday.

Yuen Long District Councillor Lam Chun, who is affiliated with the localist group Tin Shui Wai Connection, said he would declare loyalty to the HKSAR and swear to uphold the Basic Law.

Lam Chun
Lam Chun. Photo: Lam Chun, via Facebook.

Members of the 18 district councils – all but one of them controlled by the pro-democracy camp after a landslide victory in the 2019 election – are now subject to the loyalty pledge that is already required for senior government officials, civil servants, lawmakers and judges, after an oath-taking bill was approved by legislators on Wednesday.

Since the November 2019 election, over 30 district councillors have either resigned or lost their seats for various reasons. Some stated explicitly that they would not take the oath, while others cited health and personal reasons. Some also stepped down after being detained for over two months pending a national security mass trial for alleged subversion.

Lam told HKFP on Thursday that it was a “very personal decision” for him to remain, and each district councillor had a “very different assessment” of the risks of being disqualified.

“I don’t think we should give up something important because of this purge by the government. It will be very difficult [otherwise] for Hong Kong to maintain the foundations of democracy,” he said.

The district councils deal with often-mundane local issues. But they are often seen as the last opposition force remaining, after pan-democratic lawmakers quit the higher-level Legislative Council en masse last November in protest at the ousting of four of their colleagues.

Beijing has since announced sweeping changes which critics say will further shut democrats out of the political structure.

Details of the oath-taking procedures for district councillors have yet to be unveiled.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam attends an oath-taking ceremony for civil servants on December 18, 2020. Photo: GovHK.

The Hong Kong Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood (ADPL) also announced that all of its 19 district councillors would take the oath, including Kalvin Ho and Sze Tak-loy who are charged with “conspiracy to commit subversion” along with 45 other democrats.

The party’s acting chairman Yeung Yuk told HKFP on Wednesday that compared to other political parties in Hong Kong, the ADPL has served the community for decades.

“[We] have spent a long time on building up district work. It would be very hard for us to abandon people in the neighbourhood and this platform because suddenly there is this oath-taking requirement,” Yeung said.

Yeung, who also chairs the Sham Shui Po District Council, said the group hoped they could remain in the district councils and use what opportunities still existed to “make their voices heard.”

“When you can’t guess [the red line], why not just be ourselves? We are a political party that is rooted in the grassroots and very concerned about people’s livelihoods. I don’t think this is something that will subvert state power, violate the national security law or breach the oath,” he said.

Yeung Yuk
Yeung Yuk. Photo: Yeung Yuk, via Facebook.

Asked whether Ho and Sze face a high risk of being ousted because of their involvement in the national security case, Yeung said they “could not control it.” He added the pair had only been working on people’s livelihoods, with no intention of committing “subversion.”

The Democratic Party, the city’s main pro-democracy party, said on Wednesday it had suggested that its members take the pledge but the recommendation was not mandatory. “District councillors are allowed to have individual considerations, [the party] will respect the decisions of different people.”

The bill passed on Wednesday includes two lists which stipulate conduct deemed as complying with – or violating – the allegiance oath. Any public officer who commits acts endangering national security, refuses to recognise China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong, solicits interference by foreign governments or commits acts that undermine the “overall interests” of the HKSAR will be seen as breaching the vow.

The secretary for justice may bring proceedings against a legislator or district councillor at any time during his or her term if he or she is suspected of contravening the oath. The councillor concerned will be suspended until a court reaches a verdict. Those who decline to take the oath or violate the pledge will be disqualified and will be subject to a five-year election ban.

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Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.