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All of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy legislators resign after colleagues are ousted

The government of Hong Kong removed four pro-democracy members of the semi-autonomous city’s legislative council on Wednesday. In response, all pro-democracy legislators resigned in protest. Activists fear it is the most dramatic step yet in Beijing’s effort to end Hong Kong’s British-era independence -- and rule of law. Nick Schifrin reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now to a crackdown from China that has led to a shakeup in Hong Kong.

    Nick Schifrin reports on how today's moves threaten the rule of law and an era of independence.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In the end, their final act of resistance was solidarity.

  • Man:

    Together, we stand!

  • Men and Women:

    Together, we stand!

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Today, the entire pro-democracy camp of legislators quit and held a press conference alongside their ousted colleagues.

  • Claudia Mo:

    There's no point to sit there like sitting ducks and be ousted one by one.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    One of the legislators who resigned today was 63-year-old Claudia Mo. We spoke to her later by Skype.

  • Claudia Mo:

    Today would mean the final nail in the coffin of Hong Kong's being hammered in. They're telling Hong Kong people, especially those in the political sector, that, if we don't like you in any way politically, we can just chuck you out.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Hong Kong's Legislative Council has been the primary arena for pro-democracy politicians. They fight, often literally, laws they say erode the city's freedoms.

    Today, Beijing changed the rules to allow the Hong Kong government to remove pro-democracy legislators, even though they were democratically elected. The Hong Kong government is led by the pro-Beijing chief administrator Carrie Lam.

  • Carrie Lam (through translator):

    Every lawmaker who enters such an important legislature must shoulder their responsibility of being loyal to the People's Republic of China, so that we are able to have a political system dominated by patriots.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    For Beijing, patriotism in Hong Kong means subservience.

    This summer, Beijing passed a new national security law that allowed police to arrest protesters not only for what they did, but also what they said. Hong Kong residents and visitors now face jail time if they ask for foreign assistance or call for Hong Kong independence.

    In August, police used the law to frog-march pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai out of his own newsroom and charge him with foreign collusion.

  • Claudia Mo:

    Hong Kong used to be such a robust, international, cosmopolitan city. And now it's become practically a police state. And the people would need to guard their words. And that's very Orwellian. It's "1984."

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Back in 1997, the British handed over Hong Kong. And under a deal known as one country, two systems, communist China promised Hong Kong could keep its British-written laws and independent judiciary, but turn over its defense and foreign policy.

    It was supposed to last 50 years.

  • Protesters:

    Free Hong Kong! Free Hong Kong!

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But last year, not even halfway to that half-century mark, millions of Hong Kong residents said Beijing was chipping away at freedoms that aren't available in mainland China.

    Those peaceful protests became violent. Beijing cracked down further, leading to the new national security law and today's announcement.

  • Claudia Mo:

    The authorities now are taking advantage of this coronavirus panic. And you wouldn't see two million Hong Kong people are taking to the streets to protest. They hope obedience would become a second nature and that everyone will just be reined in.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Today, I signed legislation and an executive order.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Since the national security law, the Trump administration has punished Beijing. On Monday, the State Department sanctioned four security officials who helped impose the law.

    In August, the U.S. sanctioned Carrie Lam, the police commissioner, and eight others. In September, the U.S. issued a travel warning of the risk of — quote — "arbitrary enforcement of local laws."

    And last month, the U.S. and 38 other countries signed a joint statement at the United Nations criticizing the national security law.

  • Jonathan Allen:

    It violates Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy and it directly threatens rights and freedoms.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Today, National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien called one country, two systems a — quote — "fig leaf" for expanding one-party dictatorship in Hong Kong.

    But international judgment hasn't stopped Beijing, or Hong Kong residents from leaving the city. Last month, Taiwanese protested to save the 12, Hong Kong residents caught and jailed for trying to flee Hong Kong. Their family members held a press conference, and were so scared of government retribution, they covered their faces.

  • Claudia Mo:

    I do expect some sort of exodus from Hong Kong. I mean, you can't blame people, especially young couples with young children, with toddlers. They need to think of their children's future.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And, today, Hong Kong's future looks like any other city in mainland China, without the pro-democracy lawmakers who once stood in the way.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.

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