NEW YORK—The push by Hong Kong’s government to unseat additional legislators from its legislative council amounts to an egregious politically motivated attempt to silence democratically-elected politicians for their political opinions and punish dissent, PEN America said in a statement today.  

On Friday, Hong Kong’s Justice Department filed a lawsuit attempting to invalidate the swearing-in oaths of four Hong Kong legislators. The legislators—Nathan Law Kwun-chung, Lau Siu-lai, Leung Kwok-hung, and Yiu Chung-yim—are recently-elected legislators affiliated with the pro-democracy movement within Hong Kong. Upon their swearing-in ceremony in October 12, the four legislators used methods including tone of voice and pronunciation to convey a political message about the oath. The legislators’ approach to the oath-taking, widely seen within Hong Kong as a gesture of political protest against encroachments on Hong Kong’s legally enshrined autonomy, ranged from reading the oath extra slowly, to pronouncing the oath in a questioning tone, to adding a phrase to the oath’s end. Two of the four legislators later re-took the oath. However, the Justice Department’s recent lawsuit would strip all four legislators of their elected positions.

This lawsuit comes on the heels of a successful effort to ban two other legislators—Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang—from serving due to their mode of delivering their oath. These two legislators were banned only after China’s Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, a Chinese state-level body, delivered an interpretation of the oath-taking requirement to Hong Kong courts. The Standing Committee’s interpretation, which was not requested by Hong Kong but which Hong Kong courts are nonetheless obligated to follow, resulted in the two legislators’ disqualification.

In relation to this newest attempt to ban additional legislators, the Hong Kong Justice Department has released a series of statements denying that its effort to unseat the lawmakers is politically motivated. However, two other legislators, Wong Ting-kwong and Ann Chiang Lai-wan, both members of Hong Kong’s majority political party, were not named in the lawsuit despite arguments that they also deviated from the standard swearing-in oath.

“The circumstances surrounding this lawsuit make plain that Hong Kong’s government is trying to disqualify popular, duly elected legislators seen as opposed to Beijing’s policies towards Hong Kong,” said Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director of PEN America. “For the Hong Kong Department of Justice to become an instrument of Beijing’s efforts to quell the democracy movement, based on grounds as shaky as tone of voice in delivering an oath, marks a sharp erosion in the rule of law in Hong Kong.”

PEN America has been closely involved in the issues of free expression and media freedom in Hong Kong over the past several years. PEN America’s engagement includes a November 2016 publisher’s delegation, sent to Hong Kong to discuss PEN America’s recent report on the Causeway Bay Bookstore Disappearances. During this time, PEN America and its delegation met with legislator Nathan Law, as well as other legislators, free expression advocates, and members of the international community.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

Contact: Sarah Edkins, Deputy Director for Communications: sedkins@pen.org, +1.646.779.4830