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Hong Kong Legislator Discusses China's Latest Crackdown On Lawmakers

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Beijing is once again tightening its grip on Hong Kong. Last week, four pro-democracy parliamentarians were ousted for being, quote, "unpatriotic" after a new measure was put in place that effectively extinguished one of the last ways that Hong Kong residents could voice their opposition. To protest the move, 15 lawmakers then resigned en masse the next day as they fight to keep the one country, two systems model that has allowed Hong Kong democratic freedoms after it was handed over to Chinese control. One of those who resigned is James To. Until last Thursday, he was a member of the Legislative Council, and he joins me now from Hong Kong.

Welcome.

JAMES TO: Nice to chat to the American society.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's start with the four legislators and why they were removed from office. Can you explain?

TO: The disqualification of the four people - actually, because the Beijing cannot stand the one country, two system and cannot allow freedom in our council anymore. China is a big country, and Hong Kong is so small. And if one country, two system cannot rest on patience and tolerance to the behavior of Hong Kong, I think that would be the end of one country, two system.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why did you and your other pro-democracy colleagues decide to resign en masse?

TO: If we are aware of the lack of a quorum in the council, then we demand the president to call for a quorum. But in Beijing's eye, it's a naughty behavior to the extreme that they would not tolerate. So they would like to disqualified us. And, well, we don't want to serve in Hong Kong just like other democratic parties under the so-called communist rule in Beijing.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How does resigning, though, help your cause? Won't your seats simply be filled by pro-Beijing lawmakers who will rubber-stamp whatever Beijing wants?

TO: Well, if the whole system doesn't allow freedom or even allowing legislator to speak freely, then what is the meaning of us remaining in the council?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, many activists have fled overseas. Others are self-censoring because they fear arrest, and now the opposition has resigned. Is the battle for democracy in Hong Kong over?

TO: Not exactly. Well, we may not, in the coming few months, have any voice in the council. But as you know, because Hong Kong is, after all, a pluralistic society - and although the media have been more curtailed freedom and also many media have exercised self-censorship. But still, there remains some freedom-loving media in Hong Kong. And so the voice of Hong Kong people will not be distinguished.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Extinguished. If the voice of Hong Kong people will not be extinguished, how do you see your fight going forward? We've seen that mass gatherings have been curtailed. As you mention, there is some independent media, but it is self-censoring, and people are afraid of what will happen to them. So how do you see your fight continuing?

TO: Well, I'm talking to you now. I can still speak freely to tell the whole world what the reality of Hong Kong is. Of course, I'm not asking you to censor Hong Kong government or punish Hong Kong government. But as the whole world feel that Hong Kong is no more a free city, then the international world will do whatever they think is right according to their internal policy and their respect for human rights.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: James To is a lawyer and, until last Thursday, he was a member of Hong Kong's Legislative Council.

Thank you very much.

TO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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