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Hong Kong Legislators Brawl Over Leadership, Pro-Beijing Lawmakers Work to Criminalize Mocking the Chinese National Anthem

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  • For the second time in ten days, Hong Kong lawmakers openly clashed in a committee meeting of the Legislative Council.
  • For months, pro-democracy lawmakers have stalled elections for control of the House Committee, which was expected to be won by a pro-Beijing lawmaker.
  • With that, they also stalled proposed legislation that would make it a crime to insult the Chinese national anthem.
  • Despite Monday’s fight, a vote was still held, with the pro-Beijing incumbent winning. A second reading of the anthem bill is expected to be held on May 27.

Hong Kong Legislators Brawl

Hong Kong’s House Committee erupted into a scene of violence on Monday as pro-democracy and pro-Beijing lawmakers fought over the committee’s leadership and a controversial bill that would make it illegal to mock the national anthem. 

In a video capturing the incident, lawmakers push each other as guards hold others back. At one point, one pro-democracy lawmaker threw papers at a pro-Beijing lawmaker who sat in the chairperson’s seat. The end result then led to several pro-democracy legislators being carried out of the chamber by guards. 

While protests on the street are beginning to reappear, social distancing and a coronavirus lockdown had subdued the intense demonstrations that began last year over Hong Kong’s immensely controversial extradition bill. 

Still, this is the second time this month that lawmakers have clashed in the House Committee. The first incident happened on May 8.

Both clashes are a result of a gridlock preventing the House Committee, part of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, from electing a new chairperson. Notably, the House Committee is critical to passing legislation because it vets and ultimately decides whether or not to pass legislation onto the main floor of the Legislative Council.

That means whoever leads this committee has an influence on whether pro-democracy or pro-Beijing bills end up being sent to the main floor.

Kwok Stalls Elections

As to the question of who should lead the committee, lawmakers haven’t been able to answer that because they haven’t been able to hold a vote. 

Going into the elections, the committee was chaired by pro-Beijing lawmaker Starry Lee. Because Lee was a candidate in the elections, however, pro-democracy deputy chair Dennis Kwok actually presided over holding those elections.

At the time, it seemed like the cards were stacked in Lee’s favor and that she would win re-election against the 22 pro-democracy candidates; however, Kwok had prevented the committee from voting on a new chair since late last year by consecutively filibustering meetings.

Notably, that also allowed him to hold up several key pieces of legislation. This is because an earlier session of the committee insisted that no business could be handled until a new chairperson was appointed. 

One of those bills Kwok was stalling would criminalize mocking or disrespecting the Chinese national anthem. Despite Lee giving up her presiding power to run in the election, on May 8, the government scheduled the anthem bill—among others—as “urgent business,” meaning that Lee planned to hold a hearing on it. 

Justifying this, Lee said external legal counsel had advised her that, as incumbent, she still had the power to preside over House Committee meetings. 

But what Lee argued, pro-democracy lawmakers did not buy. About an hour before the House Committee was scheduled to start, lawmakers made a wild dash for the chair’s seat to keep that vote from happening.

Despite this, Lee made it to the seat first and was surrounded by security guards.

That tension then led to physical fights on both sides, and one lawmaker was even carried away on a stretcher. 

During the brawl, lawmakers accused Lee of seizing power, but Lee held up her argument, saying that as the incumbent, she had a duty to conduct the meeting and resolve issues.

Lee then banished pro-democracy members from the room and issued warnings to them about breaching procedural laws.

During that scene, the anthem bill was never voted on. 

Following it, last week, LegCo president Andrew Leung announced he was removing Kwok from presiding over those elections, replacing him with finance committee chair Chan Kin-por, a pro-Beijing politician.

Lee is Re-elected Following Second Fight

On Monday, lawmakers arrived to the committee chamber to find Chan occupying the chairperson’s seat. With that, he was surrounded by a slew of guards. 

Even though Leung appointed him, pro-democracy lawmakers have argued that Chan took the seat against procedural objections, denouncing his appointment “illogical, absolutely unacceptable and groundless.

That then led to Monday’s fight, but even as the protests continued, Chan called for a vote to elect a new chairperson. Ultimately, Lee won re-election.

Still, even with that, pro-democracy lawmakers have said they won’t recognize Lee as the chair, one saying:

“As you can see, this is an illegitimate meeting, without any legal grounds, and Chan Kin-por, in fact, has exercised illegitimate power and so we don’t count Starry Lee as the chairman of the House Committee,” pro-democracy lawmaker Tanya Chan said. 

“They can take away the rules of procedures today, but I am sure the Hong Kong people won’t forget today,” Kwok said. 

The anthem bill is scheduled to see a second reading in the committee on May 27. Currently, LegCo is overwhelmingly pro-Beijing, so it will likely pass.

See what others are saying: (Al Jazeera) (South China Morning Post) (CNN)

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Israel Relaxes Abortion Restrictions in Response to U.S. Supreme Court Ruling

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The reforms follow similar moves by France and Germany as leaders across the political spectrum denounce the court’s decision.


Health Minister Makes Announcement

Israel is easing access to abortion in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s repeal of Roe v. Wade, Nitzan Horowitz, the country’s health minister and head of the small left-wing Meretz party, announced Monday.

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s move to deny a woman the right to abortion is a dark move,” he said in the announcement, “oppressing women and returning the leader of the free and liberal world a hundred years backward.”

The new rules, approved by a majority in the parliamentary committee, grant women access to abortion pills through the universal health system. Women will be able to obtain the pills at local health centers rather than only hospitals and surgical clinics.

The new policy also removes the decades-old requirement for women to physically appear before a special committee that must grant approval to terminate a pregnancy.

While women will still need to get approval, the process will become digitized, the application form will be simplified, and the requirement to meet a social worker will become optional.

The committee will only conduct hearings in the rare case it initially denies the abortion procedure.

Israel’s 1977 abortion law stipulates four criteria for termination of pregnancy: If the woman is under 18 or over 40, if the fetus is in danger, if the pregnancy is the result of rape, incest, or an “illicit union,” including extramarital affairs, and if the woman’s mental or physical health is at risk.

All of the changes will take effect over the next three months.

The World Reacts

Politicians across the political spectrum from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have denounced the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision since it was announced Friday.

On Saturday, French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne expressed support for a bill proposed by parliament that would enshrine the right to an abortion in the country’s constitution.

“For all women, for human rights, we must set this gain in stone,” she wrote on Twitter. “Parliament must be able to unite overwhelmingly over this text.”

Germany scrapped a Nazi-era law prohibiting the promotion of abortion Friday, just hours before the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

In Israel, abortion is a far less controversial issue than it is for Americans. Around 98% of people who apply for an abortion get one, according to the country’s Central Bureau of Statistics.

Part of the reason for Israel’s relatively easy access to abortion is that many residents interpret Jewish law to condone, or at least not prohibit, the procedure.

In the United States, several Jewish organizations including the American Jewish Committee, Hillel International, and the Women’s Rabbinic Network have expressed opposition to the court ruling, and some Jews have protested it as a violation of their religious freedom.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (ABC News) (The Guardian)

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Flight Deporting Refugees From U.K. to Rwanda Canceled at Last Hour

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The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said the U.K.’s asylum policy sets a “catastrophic” precedent.


Saved By The Bell

The inaugural flight in the U.K. government’s plan to deport some asylum seekers to Rwanda was canceled about an hour and a half before it was supposed to take off Tuesday evening.

A last-minute legal intervention by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) halted the flight. Tuesday’s flight originally included 37 people, but after a string of legal challenges that number dwindled to just seven.

In its ruling for one of the seven passengers, a 54-year-old Iraqi man, the court said he cannot be deported until three weeks after the delivery of the final domestic decision in his ongoing judicial review proceedings.

Another asylum seeker, a 26-year-old Albanian man, told The Guardian he was in a “very bad mental state” and did not want to go to Rwanda, a country he knows nothing about.

“I was exploited by traffickers in Albania for six months,” he said. “They trafficked me to France. I did not know which country I was being taken to.”

A final domestic effort to block the flight in the Court of Appeals failed on Monday. The High Court will make a ruling on the asylum policy next month.

Britains Divided by Controversial Policy

U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel spoke to lawmakers after the flight was canceled, defending the asylum policy and saying preparations for the next flight will begin immediately.

“We cannot keep on spending nearly £5 million a day on accommodation including that of hotels,” she said. “We cannot accept this intolerable pressure on public services and local communities.”

“It makes us less safe as a nation because those who come here illegally do not have the regularized checks or even the regularized status, and because evil people-smuggling gangs use the proceeds of their ill-gotten gains to fund other appalling crimes that undermine the security of our country,” she continued.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Filippo Grandi, told CBC the policy sets a “catastrophic” precedent.

“We believe that this is all wrong,” he said. “This is all wrong. I mean, saving people from dangerous journeys is great, is absolutely great. But is that the right way to do it? Is that the right, is that the real motivation for this deal to happen? I don’t think so. I think it’s… I don’t know what it is.”

An Iranian asylum seeker in a British detention center who was told to prepare for deportation before being granted a late reprieve was asked by ABC whether he ever thought the U.K. would send him to Africa.

“I thought in the U.K. there were human rights,” he said. “But so far I haven’t seen any evidence.”

The Conservative government’s plan was announced in April, when it said it would resettle some asylum seekers 4,000 miles away in Rwanda, where they can seek permanent refugee status, apply to settle there on other grounds, or seek asylum in a safe third country.

The scheme was meant to deter migrants from illegally smuggling themselves into the country by boat or truck.

Migrants have long made the dangerous journey from Northern France across the English Channel, with over 28,000 entering the U.K. in boats last year, up from around 8,500 the year prior. Dozens of people have died making the trek, including 27 who drowned last November when a single boat capsized.

See what others are saying: (BBC) (The Guardian) (CNN)

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Ryanair Draws Outrage, Accusations of Racism After Making South Africans Take Test in Afrikaans

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Afrikaans, which is only spoken as a first language by around 13% of South Africa, has not been the country’s national language since apartheid came to an end in 1994.


Airline Won’t Explain Discrimination

Ryanair, Europe’s largest airline, has received widespread criticism and accusations of racism after it began requiring South African nationals to complete a test in Afrikaans to prove their passport isn’t fraudulent.

The airline told BBC the new policy was implemented because of “substantially increased cases of fraudulent South African passports being used to enter the U.K.”

Among other questions, the test asks passengers to name South Africa’s president, its capital city, and one national public holiday.

Ryanair has not said why it chose Afrikaans, the Dutch colonial language that many associate with white minority rule, for the test.

There are 11 official languages in South Africa, and Afrikaans ranks third for usage below Zulu and IsiXhosa. Only around 13% of South Africans speak Afrikaans as their first language.

“They’re using this in a manner that is utterly absurd,” Conrad Steenkamp, CEO of the Afrikaans Language Council, told reporters. “Afrikaans, you have roughly 20% of the population of South Africa understand Afrikaans. But the rest don’t, so you’re sitting with roughly 50 million people who do not understand Afrikaans.”

“Ryanair should be careful,” he continued. “Language is a sensitive issue. They may well end up in front of the Human Rights Commission with this.”

Ryanair’s policy only applies to South African passengers flying to the United Kingdom from within Europe, since it does not fly out of South Africa.

The British government has said in a statement that it does not require the test.

Anyone who cannot complete the test will be blocked from traveling and given a refund.

Memories of Apartheid Resurface

“The question requiring a person to name a public holiday is particularly on the nose given that SA has a whole public holiday NEXT WEEK commemorating an historic protest that started in response to language-based discrimination,” one person tweeted.

South African citizen Dinesh Joseph told the BBC that he was “seething” with anger when asked to take the test.

“It was the language of apartheid,” he said, adding that it was a trigger for him.

Officials in the country were also surprised by Ryanair’s decision.

We are taken aback by the decision of this airline because the Department regularly communicates with all airlines to update them on how to validate South African passports, including the look and feel,” South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs said in a statement.

Any airline found to have flown a passenger with a fake passport to the U.K. faces a fine of £2,000 from authorities there. Ryanair has also not said whether it requires similar tests for any other nationalities.

Many people expressed outrage at Ryanair’s policy and some told stories of being declined service because they did not pass the test.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (BBC) (Al Jazeera)

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