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Politics

230 elected pro-democrats quit Hong Kong local councils

Loyalty pledge requirement accelerates crackdown against political activism

Hong Kong's Victoria Park on the 32nd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators: The organization that hosted the vigil says it will dismiss its entire staff.   © Reuters

HONG KONG -- At least 230 members of Hong Kong district councils have announced plans to resign ahead of their likely disqualification, as growing political pressure threatens the survival of the territory's pro-democracy movement.

The entirety of the pro-democracy bloc in the Legislative Council, Hong Kong's de facto parliament, stepped down last year. Though less powerful, the district councils have provided a key political foothold for pro-democracy members, who have controlled over 80% of the seats.

But Hong Kong lawmakers are now required to swear their loyalty to the city government under a new law. Local media reported this month that roughly 230 would be unseated, even if they take the oath due to violations in the past, and may be required to return their salaries of 1 million Hong Kong dollars ($129,000).

Those who violate the oath could face prosecution, leading many district council members to step down before they are forced to take it. From Wednesday through Monday alone, a total of 192 said they would resign, the local Ming Pao newspaper reported.

Overall, more than half of pro-democracy district council members are expected to leave their seats.

The exodus comes amid mounting concern over the future of Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement.

The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which for years has hosted an annual vigil for the Tiananmen Square crackdown, announced Saturday that it will dismiss its entire staff, to protect them in the face of "increasingly severe and obvious political repression."

Seven of its 14 Standing Committee members also resigned, while another three are currently imprisoned or detained.

The alliance is a staunch advocate for democracy and human rights in mainland China. Hong Kong's pro-Beijing faction sees the group's goal of ending the "one-party dictatorship" in the mainland as a violation of the sweeping national security law over the territory, which bans acts of subversion and sedition.

Some believe Chinese authorities are looking to stamp out the pro-democracy movement altogether. The election commission in Macao, which also operates under the "one country, two systems" model like Hong Kong, on Friday disqualified all pro-democracy candidates from running in a September legislative election.

The move was likely intended as a message that Beijing will not tolerate any dissent, given that the pro-democracy faction has virtually no chance of gaining a majority under Macao's electoral system, and the territory has not experienced large-scale protests like Hong Kong.

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