Authorities in Hong Kong on Wednesday shut down a session in which lawmakers ask questions of chief executive Carrie Lam after several of them protested the disqualification of a pro-democracy lawmaker from a local-level election.
Lam walked into the Legislative Council (LegCo) chamber for a weekly question session to be greeted by shouts of "Shame on you for political censorship!" and "Shame on the government for controlling elections!"
The protests came after the disqualification of lawmaker and former land rights activist Chu Hoi-dick from rural elections earlier this week.
LegCo president Andrew Leung ordered Claudia Mo, leader of the pan-democratic caucus in LegCo, Ray Chan and Chu to leave, suspending the session when Mo and Chan refused.
The session was abandoned by Leung after lawmakers resumed their shouts of protest some 20 minutes later.
Lam said later that the question-and-answer session hadn't been "successfully completed."
"These sessions in which the chief executives answers questions from members in the Legislative Council is beneficial to our administration, and enables the general public to have a window on the interactions between the chief executive and LegCo members," she said. "It enables a more timely and proactive response to issues of broader public concern."
Mo told reporters that the shouts of "shame" began within seconds of Lam's entering the LegCo chamber, and that lawmakers had been expelled from the chamber with no prior warning.
"Now [the establishment] is talking about amending LegCo's procedural rules once more ... to turn it into another ... National People's Congress (NPC)," Mo said, in a reference to China's rubber stamp parliament.
Chung Kim-wah, assistant professor of social policy at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said he believes the government is seeking to control the outcomes of elections, however.
"It's pretty clear that Carrie Lam sees the pan-democrats as the enemy these days, because they're willing to go as far as [banning them] from village-level elections," Chung told RFA.
"This incident is going to cause a greater rift between the administration and the pan-democratic camp," he said. "There are no guarantees that the next session will go smoothly either."
'Implicit support for independence'
Leung later said members "should not chant slogans" in the chamber, and that he had followed the rules of procedure.
Lam said the government would "study" whether election laws needed an overhaul in the wake of a string of decisions debarring potential candidates on the basis of their publicly expressed views.
Eddie Chu's candidacy in village representative elections scheduled for January was rejected by election officer Enoch Yuen in a notice issued on Sunday.
Yuen told journalists that he had based the decision on Chu’s answers to key questions set for him, which he said could be understood as "implicitly confirming support for independence as a possible option for Hong Kong people."
Chu has said he has never supported independence for the city, which has seen a rapid erosion in freedom of speech in recent years after a string of high-profile political interventions by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, which had promised in the city a "high degree of autonomy" after the 1997 handover.
He said the move showed that the Hong Kong government now expects all its officials to act as "thought police."
Chu is the ninth Hong Kong politician to have been barred from candidacy in elections in the city, after six pro-democracy LegCo members were stripped of their seats when Beijing's parliament ruled their oaths of allegiance invalid.
Pro-Beijing figures began on Monday to call for his impeachment in the wake of the election ban.
Last month, the Hong Kong Labour Party's would-be candidate Lau Siu-lai had her candidacy rejected by a returning officer, an administrative official charged with the orderly running of elections.
Lau has repeatedly denied that she supports the idea of self-determination for Hong Kong, which became a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China in 1997.
Alleged separatist views have already been used as grounds to debar two other prominent opposition figures—Agnes Chow and Andy Chan, founder of the separatist Hong Kong National Party.
Reported by Lau Siu-fung for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Gao Feng for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.