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In Hong Kong, district councilors must take an oath to prove their “patriotism”

Away from the press, in front of the Chinese and Hong Kong flags, 24 district councilors had to swear their loyalty to the Chinese state and to Basic Law, the mini-Constitution of Hong Kong. The ceremony, held behind closed doors on Friday, September 10, was chaired by Home Secretary Caspar Tsui.

The obligation to take the oath was previously limited to senior officials, judges and parliamentarians. The 2020 National Security Law extended it for the first time to public officials and teachers. In May, Hong Kong’s legislative council, the Legco, passed a law that requires district councilors to be sworn in in turn. The latter constitute the lowest level of political representation in the Chinese special administrative region: they are in charge of files of general interest at the level of its 18 districts. However, the local elections of November 2019, in the midst of a period of contestation, had shifted 90% of the district councils to the side of the pro-democracy opposition, which had won 392 seats out of 452.

The new legislation will now allow the Hong Kong executive to dismiss local elected officials who behave “Unpatriotic” – that is, critical of China. It is in the name of this variable geometry notion that Hong Kong’s semi-democratic governance system is being dismantled piece by piece today. The Chinese parliament adopted in March a reform of the Legco elections, of which only 20 out of 90 seats will be directly eligible, against 35 out of 70 previously. In addition, any candidate must first be approved by a “committee for the protection of national security”.

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The qualification of anti-patriotism concerns, for example, calls for independence, or simply more autonomy, of Hong Kong, or any act undermining the authority of the executive power of the special administrative region. Public officials considered “Unpatriotic” by the executive power could have to reimburse their allowances to the State or, for elected officials, the public funds that they would have allocated during their mandate.

“Total arbitrariness”

After this first oath ceremony dedicated to district councilors, the application of the new legislation was quick. Peter Choi, the only opposition politician who refused to appear at the event, was immediately dismissed from his post. On his Facebook page, the politician said he “Absolutely could not compromise, and pledge allegiance to a regime that does not respect the people”.

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