21 January 2019
Protesters gather outside the Court of Final Appeal after a silent march against China's interpretation of the Basic Law. Photo: Reuters
Protesters gather outside the Court of Final Appeal after a silent march against China's interpretation of the Basic Law. Photo: Reuters

Hundreds march to condemn China’s Basic Law interpretation

More than 1,000 Hong Kong lawyers dressed in black marched through the heart of Hong Kong in silence to denounce a move by China that effectively bars two elected pro-independence lawmakers from taking their seats in the legislature, Reuters reports.

Local and foreign lawyers walked from the High Court to Hong Kong’s highest court, underscoring growing concern among Hong Kong’s legal elite with how Beijing has handled affairs in the special administrative region of Communist Party-ruled China.

Organizers said more than 2,000 took part in the fourth and largest silent protest by lawyers since 1997. Police said 1,700 attended at the peak. 

The lawyers bowed their heads to observe three minutes’ silence outside the colonial Court of Final Appeal building, lit up beneath the statue of Lady Justice.

“I thank you, I salute you, I love you all,” veteran pro-democracy barrister Martin Lee, looking pained, told the crowd at the end of the rally.

The demonstration follows a decision by China’s parliament to interpret Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, or Basic Law, to effectively bar the independence lawmakers from taking their oaths of office.

Beijing’s ruling on Monday that oaths for Hong Kong lawmakers must be taken accurately, sincerely and solemnly for them to be valid, just as a local judicial review of the case was under way, rattled many in the legal profession, political circles and beyond.

The interpretation came as the High Court was set to decide if pro-independence lawmakers Baggio Leung, 30, and Yau Wai-Ching, 25, may be disqualified after they displayed a “Hong Kong is not China” banner during a swearing-in ceremony in October which resulted in their oaths being invalidated.

“I’m very disappointed, not just for Hong Kong but for China,” said solicitor John Clancey who marched at the front of the procession.

“I think China recognizes that one of the most precious things we have here is the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law,” he said. “In the guise of putting forth an interpretation, they really have attempted to legislate for Hong Kong … The disappointment comes in because I think they really rushed things through … to interfere with the court decision.”

The Hong Kong Bar Association, which represents more than 1,000 barristers, expressed regret over the interpretation, saying it would “do more harm than good” and gave the impression that Beijing was effectively legislating for Hong Kong.

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