Hong Kong Legislative Council passed an ordinance to extend the oath of allegiance to District Councils

A photo released by the Hong Kong government shows Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor listening to the oath of allegiance to the Hong Kong government by Hong Kong government officials at the government center. (December 16, 2020)

Hong Kong’s Legislative Council passed the third reading of a bill on the oath of office for public officials on Wednesday (May 12). The bill requires district board members to swear to uphold the Basic Law and pledge allegiance to the SAR.

The government-funded Radio Television Hong Kong reports that the bill has the unanimous support of Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing pro-establishment lawmakers, who believe that requiring public officials to take the oath is a basic requirement.

HKSAR Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs John Tsang Kwok-wai said the Home Affairs Bureau is studying the arrangements and details of the oath and will announce them as soon as possible.

The draft law is seen as a strengthened test of the patriotic loyalty of Hong Kong politicians. Hong Kong media reported that the draft will take effect on May 21. The Hong Kong government is expected to arrange for DC members to take the oath in June at the earliest.

The draft is widely expected to extend the oath-taking requirement to district councils at the community level and will further suppress pro-democracy opposition politicians in Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp has won a landslide victory in the 2019 District Council elections, becoming the dominant force in the district councils.

Radio Television Hong Kong reports that more than 20 DC members have resigned in recent months, some because they did not want to take the oath of office, while others resigned because they were involved in cases of “anti-sending China” or the Hong Kong version of the National Security Law.

The new law allows the Secretary for Justice to take action against members or officials who violate the “negative list” oath. The “negative list” prohibits a range of “unpatriotic acts,” including insulting the national flag and endangering national security.

A legislator or official placed on the “negative list” will be immediately suspended from office and will no longer be entitled to any corresponding treatment once the court rules that he or she is disqualified. RTHK reports that some legislators have questioned the practice of freezing a legislator’s eligibility while the Department of Justice files a lawsuit, which violates the “presumption of innocence” principle. Anyone who refuses to take the oath will also be barred from running for office again for five years.

Reuters reports that people, including lawyers and academics, fear that Hong Kong’s independent judges could also find themselves trapped by the law’s vague provisions.

The bill was introduced by the Hong Kong government in February, after a senior Chinese government official said provisions should be made to ensure that “patriots rule” in Hong Kong.