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Hong Kong disqualifies 4 pro-democracy lawmakers from its legislature

WATCH: Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmakers expelled, colleagues resign in protest

Hong Kong disqualified four opposition members of its legislature on Wednesday for endangering security, raising the prospect of a walk-out by pro-democracy legislators who oppose what they see as Beijing’s ever tighter grip on the city.

The expulsions came shortly after China’s parliament adopted a resolution allowing the city’s executive to expel legislators deemed to be supporting Hong Kong independence, colluding with foreign forces or threatening national security, without having to go through the courts.

On Monday, the then 19 democratic members of the 70-seat city legislature threatened to resign en masse if any of them was disqualified.

Read more: Canadian businesses must weigh risks of work, travel to Hong Kong, consul general warns

While the city’s Legislative Council is controlled by a pro-Beijing camp, the resignations of its pro-democracy lawmakers would turn it into a rubber stamp.

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The opposition members have tried to make a stand against what many people in the former British colony see as Beijing’s whittling away of freedoms and institutional checks and balances, despite a promise of a high degree of autonomy.

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“My mission as a legislator to fight for democracy and freedom cannot continue but I would certainly go along if Hong Kong people continue to fight for the core values of Hong Kong,” one of the disqualified assembly members, Kwok Ka-Ki, told reporters.

China denies curbing rights and freedoms in the global financial hub, but authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing have moved swiftly to stifle dissent after anti-government protests flared in June last year and plunged the city into crisis.

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The city government said in a statement the four legislators — Kwok, Alvin Yeung, Dennis Kwok and Kenneth Leung — were expelled from the assembly for endangering national security. It did not elaborate.

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They were among 12 legislators who were earlier disqualified from standing in a legislative election, now postponed, for various reasons including collusion with foreign forces and opposition to the new national security law.

‘Ignores basic human rights’

The disqualifications are likely to add to concern in the West about Hong Kong’s autonomy, promised under a “one country, two systems” formula when Britain handed it to China in 1997, as Joe Biden prepares to take over from Donald Trump as U.S. president, promising to promote democracy around the world.

“This completely violates the ‘one country, two systems’ proper procedures and ignores basic human rights,” Dennis Kwok told reporters.

Read more: China says Britain ‘violated promises,’ may not recognize Hong Kong passports

The resolution by the Chinese parliament’s top decision-making body clearing the way for the disqualifications comes amid frustration in pro-Beijing circles in Hong Kong over what they see as opposition “delay tactics” to obstruct legislation.

Filibustering has long been common in Hong Kong where only half of the 70 seats in the legislature are elected and the other half stacked with pro-Beijing figures.

This month, eight opposition politicians were arrested in connection with a meeting in the Legislative Council in May that descended into chaos.

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On June 30, Beijing introduced sweeping national security legislation to the city, punishing anything China considers subversion, secessionism, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.

Since then, authorities have removed some pro-democracy books from libraries, banned certain songs and other activities in schools, declared some slogans illegal and raided the newsroom of an anti-government tabloid.

Critics say the authorities are trying to kill the momentum of the pro-democracy movement. Government supporters say the authorities are trying to restore stability in China’s freest city after a year of unrest.

(Reporting by Marius Zaharia Editing by Robert Birsel)