[Sunday’s march came before an expected decision on Monday by the National People’s Congress in China, with a goal of ensuring that two young people elected in September to Hong Kong’s 70-seat legislature never formally take office.]
By Amie Tsang, Alan Wong and Michael Forsythe
Thousands protested in Hong Kong on Sunday against what they consider a legal
overreach by Beijing, with some demonstrators clashing with the police. By
REUTERS and THE ASSOCIATED PRESS on Publish Date November
6, 2016. Photo by Vincent Yu/Associated Press... Watch in Times Video »
HONG KONG — Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday, clashing with the police in a protest against an impending decision by China’s Parliament aimed at eradicating a nascent independence movement in the territory.
In a scene that resembled the enormous pro-democracy demonstrations of 2014, the police used pepper spray to push back hundreds of protesters gathering after nightfall around the Chinese government’s liaison office in the city.
Protesters defended themselves with umbrellas, many of them yellow — the symbol of the 2014 Umbrella Movement — and set up barricades across a major street.
Sunday’s march came before an expected decision on Monday by the National People’s Congress in China, with a goal of ensuring that two young people elected in September to Hong Kong’s 70-seat legislature never formally take office.
The two, Yau Wai-ching, 25, and Sixtus Leung, 30, support independence for Hong Kong. Both inserted what many consider to be a derogatory term for China into their oaths of office last month, and both were told they must retake their oaths.
Their words incited fury in Beijing, which has used its large internal police force to stamp out separatist movements in places like Tibet and Xinjiang.
A commentator in the Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper called Ms. Yau and Mr. Leung’s actions a “festering pustule” on Wednesday. On Saturday, the standing committee of the National People’s Congress declared the two a threat to national security.
But in Hong Kong, unlike in Tibet and Xinjiang, the power of China’s authoritarian government is constrained. Here, civil liberties are guaranteed by the city’s mini-Constitution, known as the Basic Law, and an international treaty that paved the way for Britain to hand over sovereignty of the territory, a former colony, to China in 1997.
In a sign of how seriously it views the situation with the lawmakers, China is taking the extraordinary step of interpreting a clause in the Basic Law in such a way that is expected to make it impossible for Ms. Yau and Mr. Leung to retake their oaths and formally assume office.
A decision may come on Monday and would be only the second time since 1997 that the National People’s Congress has intervened in Hong Kong without being asked by the territory’s government or its highest court.
Such an intervention into a sophisticated legal system inherited from the British and based on hundred of years of legal precedents has alarmed many people in Hong Kong.
China has the right to issue interpretations of the Basic Law, but the Hong Kong Bar Association said on Wednesday that a decision by Beijing would “deal a severe blow” to the judicial independence of Hong Kong’s courts, which are adjudicating Ms. Yau and Mr. Leung’s case.
Many fear that the move will further undermine the principle of “One Country, Two Systems” that has given the city considerable autonomy.
Beijing’s impending move has galvanized the large coalition of protesters who captured the world’s attention during their 79-day occupation of major thoroughfares in Hong Kong in late 2014. They fear that the Communist Party will not only invalidate the elections of Ms. Yau and Mr. Leung, but also move against other major figures of the protests who were voted into office in September.
“When Hong Kong’s Basic Law can be changed at the Communist Party’s will, what does that say about Hong Kong’s future?” said Joshua Wong, 20, the most prominent leader of the 2014 protests.
“Today, it could disqualify the pro-independence legislators,” he said, wearing a surgical mask and plastic goggles as he stood in the middle of the demonstration. “Who would be next?”
As midnight approached in Hong Kong, hundreds of protesters remained in a tense standoff with the police near China’s liaison office. Officers stood in a row, armed with truncheons and shields. Some had gas masks, igniting concerns that tear gas could be used. It was the use of tear gas against the unarmed protesters in 2014 that helped set off that year’s widespread protest movement.
After midnight, officers in riot gear began clearing the area of protesters, some of whom were shouting, “Hong Kong independence.”
The 2014 protests also followed a decision by the National People’s Congress that generated outrage in Hong Kong. That year, the Communist Party-controlled body set strict rules on planned elections for Hong Kong’s top leader that effectively gave Beijing control over who could be nominated for the office.