Hong Kong’s remaining district councillors will be required to swear an oath of allegiance to the government starting from this Friday.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam
Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

The elected district representatives will receive invitations from the Home Affairs Bureau on Tuesday and will take their oaths at a ceremony presided over by Secretary for Home Affairs Caspar Tsui. Chief Executive Carrie Lam said during a routine press briefing on Tuesday that councillors will be expected to respond to the invitations and anyone absent will lose their district council seat.

“To ensure that everyone taking the oaths are doing so sincerely and solemnly, they will have to say their oaths before the national and HKSAR flags, and comply with relevant requirements for the occasion,” Lam said. There will also be rules on appropriate attire to wear, she added.

After district councillors quit in droves in July, a total of 211 district councillors will be expected to attend the oath-taking ceremonies, Lam said, beginning with district councillors from Hong Kong Island.

Any cases of illegal activity will be referred to the police, she said. Tsui added that “if you have done nothing wrong, if you have a clear conscience, you do not have to look over your shoulder.” 

Remaining district councillors

The government has received a total of 260 resignations from district councillors in recent months, while eight have lost their eligibility to remain in office as they are in custody or have left the city, Lam said on Tuesday.

The requirement for district councillors to swear allegiance to the government was introduced in February as an amendment to the existing Oaths and Declaration Ordinance. It also fulfils national security law requirements, Lam said.

November 25 polytechnic polyu tsim sha tsui
Newly elected District Councillors gathered in Tsim Sha Tsui in support of the protesters remaining in PolyU, November 25, 2019. Photo: Studio Incendo.

Officials have said the oaths legislation will not be retroactive, but authorities will consider the past conduct of district councillors when reviewing whether their pledges of allegiance are sincere.

Grounds for disqualification will reportedly include having taken part in an unofficial primary election for the democratic camp last July, having signed an online petition last year calling for Hong Kong to lose its special trade status, or having displayed the illegal protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our Times” in offices.

The district councillors will not be immediately told if their oaths are considered valid but will be informed after the ceremony, Lam said. “Those [whose oaths] are in doubt, where we cannot fully trust they will uphold their allegiance and loyalty, will be given the opportunity to explain it. It will be decided upon by the administrator of the oaths,” Lam said.

The administrator may seek legal advice when making such a determination and a district councillor will lose their office if their oaths are deemed invalid, she added.

carrie lam oath ceremony civil servants
Top officials take oaths of allegiance in December 2020. File photo: GovHK screenshot.

The councils were the last stronghold of the democratic camp after democrats quit the higher-level Legislative Council in protest over the disqualification of four of their colleagues. Pro-democracy councillors controlled all but one of the district councils after a landslide victory in November 2019, during months of pro-democracy protests and unrest.

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Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.