HONG KONG: Pro-democracy activist causes 'stir' in parliamentary swearing in

Issue 

Eva Cheng

From his September 12 election to the Legislative Council, pro-worker activist "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-Hung fought to modify the oath of allegiance he had to give on October 6 in order to take up the seat. Leung, who is one of 30 popularly elected councillors in a chamber of 60, wanted to include an oath to democracy, freedom and the people of China and Hong Kong.

In the last few years, democracy activists have been mobilising to demand a more democratic interpretation of the territory's mini-constitution, called the Basic Law, with fierce resistance from Beijing. Leung has been prominent in this movement, whose demands include that the territory's chief executive and the Legislature Council be elected entirely by popular vote by 2007 and 2008.

Leung's initial application to modify the oath was rejected, and he was warned that he could be disqualified from his elected position if he did not stick to the official wording. On October 4, Leung asked the High Court to review the decision. The High Court decided, less than three hours before the oath was due, that the matter was outside its jurisdiction.

For those three hours, Hong Kong's top discussion point was what Leung would do. For weeks, the media had extensively discussed the officials' attempt to block Leung's pro-people pledge. As Reuters explained on October 6: "Since his shock victory in the September 12 poll, Mr Leung has dominated local headlines for his salvoes against the government."

Leung arrived shortly before the oath ceremony in the Che Guevera T-shirt he frequently wears. He warmly greeted the pro-democracy protesters outside the building and made himself an impromptu black armband out of a banner to symbolise his respect for the students massacred by Beijing in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. Forced by dress regulations to wear a collared shirt (which he left unbuttoned) through security, Leung quickly removed it when inside, causing a stir among the conservatively suited parliamentarians.

Shortly before Leung's turn to make his oath, he removed his Che T-shirt to reveal a black T-shirt emblazoned, "Rehabilitate the June 4 actions [of the pro-democracy students in 1989], return the government to the people". Leung raised his left arm, now with the black band on his wrist.

When his name was called, he immediately responded loudly at his waiting position with the slogans: "Rehabilitate the June 4 actions, return the government to the people, end one-party rule [in China] and release the political prisoners". Leung then walked to the platform where the oath was to take place, raised his head high and announced loudly: "I hereby declare I pledge my allegiance to the people of China and the citizens of Hong Kong, I oppose the collusion between the officials and the businesspeople, I will defend with all I can democracy and justice and fight for human rights and freedom."

Then Leung moved on to the official vow, which he uttered with apparent difficulty, resulting in an unconventional reading. For example, his proclaimed allegiance to the Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China, in Chinese grammatical ordering, sounded like it was directed to the people of China, with the republic and SAR artificially tagged on.

After the official vow, Leung went on to loudly and smoothly declare, In English and then Chinese: "Long live democracy, long live the people, power to the people." He then added in Chinese, "oppose 'small-circle' elections [those based on token, privileged electorates]. Popular elections for the chief executive and the Legislative Council!" Leung then went straight back to his seat, without signing the written oath.

Leung's actions caused an uproar. Some pro-government legislators tried, unsuccessfully, to challenge the validity of Leung's oath because he didn't sign the official document. He now faces two more challenges: Beijing's officials in Hong Kong have asked for a legislative review to decide if Leung's action constitutes contempt of parliament, warranting his disqualification, and the Legislative Council is trying to force Leung to pay for its costs in the High Court case, some HK$200,000.

Leung argued in court that his case was in the public interest, and his costs should be token. Despite the court expediting the case on public interest grounds, and the justice secretary's lawyers also because of its merit as a public interest case, the Legislative Council has rejected the defence.

Leung, who could lose his seat if he is ordered to pay and connot, couldn't afford legal representation, and spoke for himself in court. A judgement on the cost question is expected shortly.

From Green Left Weekly, October 13, 2004.
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