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Hong Kong's High Court Expels Pro-Democracy Lawmakers

Pro-democracy lawmakers, from left, Nathan Law, Leung Kwok-hung and Lau Siu-lai and Edward Yiu, at a news conference in Hong Kong on Friday following a high court ruling expelling them from the legislature.

Hong Kong's high-court has ruled in favor of expelling four opposition lawmakers from the city's legislature in a case that critics say calls the territory's independence into question.

Prominent opposition figure "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung, who was sworn in last October, is among the lawmakers ordered removed by the Court of First Instance for modifying the oath of office. He was accused of adding words to his oath and for reciting the oath in a tone that "expressed a doubt on or disrespect of the status of the [People's Republic of China] as a legitimate sovereign of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region," according to the court. Nathan Law Kwun-chung, Lau Siu-lai and Edward Yiu Chung-yim also lost their seats in the Hong Kong Legislature.

Two other opposition lawmakers had previously been expelled.

The South China Morning Post writes that the latest expulsions have "wide implications on the bargaining power of the democratic bloc" in the legislature. "This could give the pro-Beijing camp a chance to change the lawmaking body's game rules, making their rivals unable to filibuster contentious bills," the Post writes.

The removal of the four legislators comes barely two weeks after the territory marked the 20th anniversary of the end of a century and a half of British rule.

At the time of Hong Kong's handover to Beijing in 1997, London had sought to build in some elements of democratic rule, including a partially-elected legislature and the eventual open election of the territory's leader. However, China has gradually asserted more authority in the governance of the territory.

At the anniversary of the handover earlier this month, Chinese leader Xi Jinping warned Hong Kong residents not to cross a "red line" by challenging Beijing's authority.

Xi's remarks followed a crackdown on dissent that began with the quashing of pro-democracy protests in 2014, and last month authorities in Hong Kong charged nine involved in leading the mass protests known as the Umbrella Movement.

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