HONG KONG – Two separatist Hong Kong lawmakers lost their appeal Wednesday against a ruling disqualifying them from office because they altered their oaths with an anti-China insult.
The Court of Appeal sided with a judgment earlier this month barring Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching of the Youngspiration Party from taking their seats in the city's Legislative Council.
It agreed with the High Court's decision two weeks ago that the pair effectively declined to take the oath, violating the semiautonomous Chinese city's Basic Law constitution covering oaths taken by officials.
The three-member panel said its ruling was backed up by Beijing's own controversial interpretation of the Basic Law.
In an act of defiance, Leung and Yau modified their oaths, which require pledging allegiance to Hong Kong as a part of China, by referring to the "Hong Kong nation" and using a derogatory term for China during their swearing-in ceremonies last month. They also displayed a flag that said "Hong Kong is not China." Yau, 25, cursed and Leung, 30, crossed his fingers.
"There can be no innocent explanation for what they uttered and did," the ruling said. "What has been done was done deliberately and intentionally."
The actions infuriated China's central government in Beijing, which responded with its constitutional interpretation that Hong Kong courts are required to enforce. But in an unprecedented move, the decree was released before the lower court came to a decision, sparking fears that Beijing was eroding Hong Kong's considerable autonomy and independent judiciary.
Leung and Yau were among a group of lawmakers newly elected in September amid a rising tide of anti-China sentiment driven by fears that Beijing is tightening its grip on the former British colony.
The ruling comes after the Hong Kong government indicated it plans to widen its campaign against the opposition by taking action against a third pro-democracy lawmaker, Lau Siu-lai, who read her pledge in an exaggeratedly slow manner in an apparent protest, pausing for a few seconds between each word.
The Justice Department said in a brief statement Tuesday that the government plans to take Lau to court but did not provide details.