HK police charge pro-independence activists with unlawful assembly

By Venus Wu
Pro-independence activists Yau Wai-Ching (R) and Baggio Leung meet journalists outside High Court after they lost an appeal against their disqualification as lawmakers in Hong Kong, China November 30, 2016. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

By Venus Wu

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong police on Wednesday charged two disqualified pro-independence legislators with unlawful assembly and forceful entry over an attempt to barge into a Legislative Council meeting in November.

The detentions are likely to add to concern among democracy activists about interference by Beijing in Hong Kong's affairs, despite a system meant to guarantee the autonomy of the financial hub.

As they left the police station after being questioned for most of the day, the two disqualified legislators, Yau Wai-ching, 25, and Baggio Leung, 30, told reporters they did not regret their actions.

"The government's regime will do whatever it takes to destroy and wipe out Hong Kong's cries for self-determination. But we will never give up," Yau said.

The pair had been picked up at their homes around 7 a.m. and taken to the station for questioning. Later, they were released on bail of HK$3,000 and are due to appear in court on April 28.

They said three of their assistants had been detained but it was unclear if they, too, had been charged.

Police did not respond to a request for comment.

The two, who represent a new breed of more radical activists moving into the political mainstream, had their swearing-in oaths invalidated last October after they used language deemed derogatory to China and displayed a banner declaring "Hong Kong is not China".

The issue of independence, for long taboo, has gained momentum since pro-democracy protests in late 2014, which paralyzed parts of the former British colony, failed to secure concessions from Communist Party rulers in Beijing.

"There may be dark days ahead, there may be more arrests and legal challenges but we shall struggle against evil on the streets, in the courts, within the community and on every media platform," their political party, Youngspiration, said.

In March, nine leaders of the 2014 democracy protests were charged with inciting the street occupation.

The nine were charged just a day after a new Beijing-backed leader, Carrie Lam, was chosen as the city's next leader, seen by many as a worrying sign after she had vowed to heal divisions in the Chinese-ruled city and unite society.

In October, the president of the legislature delayed the second swearing-in of Yau and Leung and temporarily banned them from meetings, an unprecedented step that followed weeks of pressure from factions loyal to Beijing.

In November, China's parliament passed a ruling that effectively barred the pair from taking office, Beijing's most direct intervention in the territory's legal and political system since the 1997 handover.

A Hong Kong court later disqualified the two from taking office, ruling their oath of allegiance invalid.

Hong Kong returned to China in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" agreement that ensured its freedoms and wide-ranging autonomy, including a separate legal system.

But Communist Party rulers in Beijing have ultimate control, stepping in to interpret the Basic Law, Hong Kong's constitution, and some residents are concerned they are increasingly interfering to head off dissent.

(Reporting By Venus Wu and Pak Yiu,; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Robert Birsel and Clarence Fernandez)