A brawl erupted in the Hong Kong legislature, commonly known as LegCo, on Monday when pro-Beijing lawmakers installed one of their own as House Committee chair.
Another pro-establishment legislator was installed in a key position to address complaints from Beijing that bills desired by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) were not moving through the chamber quickly enough. Pro-democracy observers denounced the maneuvers as illegal and tantamount to a coup, since lawmakers who objected to the proceedings were physically removed from the chamber and prevented from voting.
The Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) reported that pro-democracy legislators were able to stage only a “short-lived protest” against the election of Starry Lee Wai-king as House Committee chairperson on Monday. Pro-democracy deputy chair Dennis Kwok was replaced by establishment-friendly Chan Kin-por on Friday to break up what pro-Beijing forces denounced as stalling tactics by their adversaries, who have been able to keep legislative elections deadlocked for six months and keep LegCo from passing any bills.
The pro-Beijing administration of Hong Kong is assigning top priority to a bill that would criminalize disrespect for the Communist Chinese national anthem, with financial penalties and jail time possible based on highly subjective judgments about the “intent” of those who parody the anthem or quote it for commercial purposes.
The bill, criticized by free speech and human rights advocates around the world, is seen by Beijing as an important step toward preventing pro-democracy protests from resuming with the size and enthusiasm they enjoyed before the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic.
Monday’s contentious LegCo session began with the presiding table surrounded by an ominous ring of security personnel wearing three-piece suits and surgical masks. Pro-democracy legislators responded by holding up a black cloth, symbolic of the lack of transparency from the pro-Beijing caucus. They accused presiding member Chan Kin-por of “foul play” and “abuse of power” and warned that the Chinese Communist Party is “trampling” the nominally autonomous Hong Kong legislature.
Pro-Beijing security guards hold the doors shut as the illegal vote continues and pro-democracy lawmakers bang on the doors from the outside. pic.twitter.com/LONeJXafPQ
— Things China Doesn't Want You To Know (@TruthAbtChina) May 18, 2020
Coconuts Hong Kong described the brawl that ensued after security guards began dragging pro-democracy lawmakers out of the chamber for “disorderly behavior”:
By 11:10am, Chan had ordered for five pan-democrats to be ejected, including the Civic Party’s Tanya Chan and Ted Hui of the Democratic Party. Hui, who resisted his ejection, was forcibly removed from the chamber by four LegCo security guards. Hui was reported to be injured during the ejection, and later said he had been kicked in the chest.
Chan suspended the meeting for 30 minutes, after which another 10 democrats were forcibly removed from the chamber. Following the pan-democratic lawmakers’ expulsion, 40 pro-establishment lawmakers unanimously voted to re-install Lee as the committee chair. The five pan-democratic lawmakers who remained in the chamber were not given ballots, as they continued to protest Chan’s actions instead of taking their seats.
The pro-democracy faction explained that Chan’s appointment violated the laws of Hong Kong and represented a raw power grab by legislative president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen, who claimed he relied upon “external legal advice” to push the appointment through. They said this made Starry Lee’s election as House Committee chairperson illegitimate.
“As you can see this is an illegitimate meeting, without any legal grounds, and Chan Kin-por in fact has exercised illegitimate power and so we don’t count Starry Lee as the chairman of the House Committee,” said lawmaker Tanya Chan, who was ejected from the session.
She criticized LegCo security guards for “losing their impartiality” by forming a ring around the president table to protect Chan Kin-por when he ignored legitimate procedural objections to take the seat. The scuffle that resulted in the ejection of so many pro-democratic legislators began when they tried to get past the guards to physically dislodge Chan Kin-por from the seat.
“The reality in Hong Kong today is that whenever Beijing, whenever Carrie Lam and the pro-establishment don’t like something, they will do whatever it takes, including breaking the system that we have, the rules that we have,” said displaced pro-democracy chair Dennis Kwok.
“They can take away the rules of procedures today but I am sure the Hong Kong people won’t forget today,” Kwok said.
Prominent pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo said Hong Kong is “marching towards the beginning of the end of ‘One Country, Two Systems,’” the rules that allowed Hong Kong to remain semi-autonomous after the United Kingdom returned ownership of the island to Communist China. She described Lee’s election to chairmanship of the House Committee as “perfectly illegal.”
Mo called for Hong Kongers who care about their autonomy to vote against the pro-Beijing block in September’s elections, while protest movement leaders promised fresh demonstrations against the anthem bill and the parliamentary tactics employed to get it passed.