(Adds details on judicial review, quotes, context)
By Venus Wu
HONG KONG Oct 18 The Hong Kong government
failed in an unprecedented legal attempt on Tuesday to halt the
swearing-in of two newly elected lawmakers seeking to push for
independence for the autonomous region.
High Court Judge Thomas Au rejected its last-ditch request
for an injunction against a decision allowing the two lawmakers
to re-take their oath of office at Hong Kong's Legislative
Council on Wednesday.
Au did approve the government's request for a judicial
review of the case, which will take place early next month. By
that time, they could already be serving in the legislature.
Yau Wai-ching, 25, and Baggio Leung, 30, were initially
barred by legislative authorities last week after pledging their
allegiance to the "Hong Kong nation" and displaying a "Hong Kong
is not China" banner when they first attempted to take office.
The pair's oath-taking was an early test of their
determination to push independence issues into mainstream Hong
Kong politics. It also showed the depth of the pro-Beijing
establishment's anger at the challenge they represent.
China's representative office in the city issued a statement
last Friday expressing "great indignation and strong
condemnation" over their statements last Wednesday.
Pressure has mounted since then from pro-Beijing groups and
politicians, who said they were outraged by the derogatory terms
for China and swear words they said were used. The pair denied
using such language.
The topic of independence was once regarded as taboo in the
former British colony, now governed under the "one country, two
systems" principle since its return to Chinese rule in 1997.
But some young people have started demanding greater
autonomy, ranging from self-determination to independence, after
months of pro-democracy protests in 2014 failed to secure any
concessions from Beijing.
Government lawyers were specifically challenging a decision
by the legislature's new president Andrew Leung to allow the
pair to re-take their oaths this week.
The government's writ stated Leung had no power to
re-administer the oaths to the pair as, given their actions,
they were disqualified from taking office under the law.
"Leung and Yau have manifested an intent ... that they did
not intend to make the Legislative Council oath or be bound by
it," the writ states.
The oath requires legislators to swear allegiance to the
"Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's
Republic of China."
Andrew Leung said earlier on Tuesday that he was opposed to
the government's move and had instructed the legislature's
lawyers on the matter.
In refusing the injunction, Judge Au said barring the newly
elected lawmakers would "result in the confusion of the public"
and harm the "sanctity and solemnity" of the legislature.
Yau said afterwards that the government was destroying the
vital separation of powers between it and lawmakers while Leung
said: "Hong Kong can't afford to lose this case".
Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying said last Friday that the
pair's statements "seriously affected the relationship between
Hong Kong and mainland people."
The rise of independence debates has sparked concern among
some senior government officials and judges that Beijing might
pressure Hong Kong to pass tough new laws to explicitly outlaw
any such discussions, or invoke rarely used powers to tweak Hong
Kong's mini-constitution known as the Basic Law.
The document codifies Chinese sovereignty, but also
guarantees extensive freedoms for Hong Kong people, with a
separate legal system and autonomy for its government.
(Reporting by Venus Wu; Writing by Greg Torode; Editing by Tom