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HONG KONG – A Hong Kong court on Friday disqualified four opposition lawmakers from office for having turned their oath-taking into apparent protests against Beijing, further entrenching the central government's hold over the legislature.
The Chinese territory's Court of First Instance ruled the four had not been sincere when they altered their oaths, and declared their seats vacant.
That followed the government's successful move last year to disqualify two other young lawmakers who used an anti-China slur as a form of protest while being sworn in.
The four lawmakers put their own spin on their oaths in various ways during the Oct. 12, 2016, ceremony. Nathan Law, a student activist who helped lead massive 2014 pro-democracy street protests, raised his tone when he came to mention the People's Republic of China, making the words sound like a question.
Veteran activist Leung Kwok-hung held up a yellow umbrella, a symbol of the street protests. Lau Siu-lai, a college lecturer who was also active in those protests, read her pledge in slow motion in an attempt to make it meaningless, while Edward Yiu, a university professor, added phrases about democracy.
In his ruling, Judge Thomas Au declared the oaths invalid due to "slow reading," ''intentional intonation," ''repeated insertion of extra words" and the "use of props and theatrical conduct."
The four had originally been allowed to retake their oaths, which were accepted, unlike the other two who were disqualified last year without a second chance.
Mabel Au, director of Amnesty International Hong Kong, said in a statement that Friday's decision "confirms the Hong Kong government's agenda to silence and effectively punish any speech critical of the present political system, wherever it may occur, even within the legislature.
"It is the latest damaging sign that expressing political opinions that challenge the status quo are no longer tolerated," Au said.