National security law: HK district councillors will be required to pledge allegiance to city, top official reveals

23-Jan-2021 Intellasia | South China Moring Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

More than 400 Hong Kong district councillors will be required to pledge allegiance to the city, as the government plans to amend the oaths ordinance as early as next month, a top official has confirmed.

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang Kwok-wai revealed the move in the Legislative Council on Thursday as lawmakers continued a debate on the city leader’s policy address in November last year.

Under Article 6 of the national security law, which Beijing imposed on Hong Kong in June last year, any resident “who stands for election or assumes public office” must swear to uphold the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, and pledge allegiance to the city.

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As it did not define “public office”, the government has been studying ways to align the city’s legislation with the security law.

Tsang said the government’s amendment bill would clarify issues such as how the oath should be taken, who would supervise the procedure, and the consequences of public officers breaking their vows.

“After lawmakers proposed that district councillors should also be included, we have studied the matter, and concluded that they should be considered as public officers under Article 6,” Tsang said.

“We decided to include district councillors’ oath-taking in the amendment bill … which will be submitted to Legco for scrutiny after the Lunar New Year holidays.”

In 2019, the opposition camp swept 392 of the city’s 452 district council seats in an unprecedented landslide election win. Since then, the relationship between the district councils and the government has reached freezing point.

According to a count by the Post, some 50 elected opposition councillors, or 13 per cent of the bloc, had been arrested over offences such as police obstruction, illegal assembly, misconduct in public office, or conspiracy to defraud in relation to expense claims for the now-postponed Legislative Council elections.

Pro-Beijing politicians also accused some opposition district councillors of being “separatists”.

Tsang’s remarks were the first time the government had confirmed that the oath-taking requirement, which has been extended to all civil servants, would cover district councillors as well.

At a media briefing last week, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was asked to elaborate on the government’s plan to amend the Oaths and Declarations Ordinance. She said “the oath-taking requirement of public officers should” include district councillors, as well as members of the 1,200-strong Election Committee, which will pick the city’s leader in March 2022.

At the Legco meeting on Thursday, Tsang also said the National Flag and National Emblem Ordinance would be amended as well after China strengthened its national flag law in October to ban turning it upside down and its casual disposal. But he stopped short of mentioning a timetable.

“We need to safeguard the dignity of the national flag and emblem, its correct usage, and we need to boost citizens’ sense of national identity,” he said. “The bill will be submitted to Legco as soon as possible.”

Sai Kung District Council chair Ben Chung Kam-lun, former convenor of a group formed by opposition councillors, said from his understanding, many were willing to pledge allegiance.

“Both the traditional and radical factions agreed in principle that citizens would not want us to give up our seats just because of our refusal to pledge allegiance,” he said, adding “a handful” in the bloc who had reservations were exploring whether to resign together.

Andrew Chiu Ka-yin, vice-chair of Eastern District Council and convenor of the Power for Democracy group, said the bloc would examine the oath to see it had extra requirements compared with the declaration they made as election candidates in 2019, and the potential risks of falling foul of the national security law if they refused to take it.

Tsuen Wan District Council chair Sumly Chan Yuen-sum said he would discuss with council colleagues whether to comply over the oath.

“What’s the point of taking the oath if it bans us from opposing government policies or playing a monitoring role as elected members? We’ll wait and see,” he said.

Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah and Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu also spoke at the Legco meeting on Thursday.

Cheng said Beijing’s implementation of the security law had reinforced the foundation of the “one country, two systems” principle under which the city was governed. She dismissed the suggestion the law had undermined judicial independence or one country, two systems.

Lee said the law had restored normality to society. Police would step up their intelligence-gathering work, as acts threatening national security could go underground, he added.


Category: Hong Kong

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