They’ve gone from being stars of Hong Kong’s nascent independence motion, to public enemy primary, criticized in newspapers and on tv, and harassed on-line.

“Once we had been elected, our battle between the individuals and authorities was simply beginning,” Yau, a 25-year-old former group employee, instructed CNN.

That battle has escalated far faster than anybody might think about. On November 2, Yau and Leung had been dragged from LegCo by safety guards as they discovered themselves on the heart of a authorized battle that threatens to undermine the town’s already shaky political system.

Oathgate

The saga started as lawmakers had been taking their oaths of workplace final month. Whereas pro-democracy politicians have used the ceremony as a venue for protest prior to now, Yau and Leung took it a step additional.

They swore and insulted China and displayed flags with the phrases “Hong Kong is just not China,” resulting in their oaths being rejected, together with a number of different lawmakers who flubbed their vows.

The pair had been as a consequence of retake their oaths correctly the next week when every part obtained much more sophisticated. Hong Kong authorities officers sued to stop them being sworn-in once more, arguing that they had forgone their alternative.

Earlier than the courtroom might rule, Beijing too waded in, using a rarely-used power to re-interpret Hong Kong’s constitution.

Sixtus "Baggio" Leung and Yau Wai-ching speak to CNN.Sixtus "Baggio" Leung and Yau Wai-ching speak to CNN.

Yau and Leung couldn’t retake their oaths, and wouldn’t change into lawmakers, Beijing mentioned. This was later backed up by a Hong Kong courtroom, though the pair are appealing.

“We had been elected by over 50,000 voters,” Leung mentioned, including that he was combating to “defend our system and the separation of powers and the rule of regulation.”

Yau defended the pair’s protest as a practice, pointing to events prior to now the place different lawmakers used the oath-taking session “for a efficiency or probability to indicate their ideologies.”

Displaying the flags was only a assertion of truth, Leung added, “Hong Kong is just not China.”

They’d not touch upon the content material of their oaths, because of the ongoing attraction.

What’s at stake?

Beijing’s ruling got here as a shock to a lot of Hong Kong.

Final week, carrying black and led by a marshal holding a black umbrella, greater than 2,000 legal professionals marched on the town’s high courtroom, in a silent demonstration towards what they noticed was a blow to the town’s judicial autonomy.

“That is treachery on behalf of the (Chinese language authorities) to the Hong Kong individuals. How can they ever belief them once more?” mentioned Alan Leong, a former barrister and co-founder of the pro-democracy Civic Get together, including that Beijing’s ruling was “fully pointless.”

The worry is that Beijing’s interpretation, which requires officers to pledge allegiance to Hong Kong as an inalienable a part of China, will undermine judicial independence and the “one nation, two programs” precept below which the town is ruled.

“By stopping the 2 pro-independence politicians from taking workplace, the Chinese language authorities has opened the door to disqualify anybody from Hong Kong’s authorities if they’re decided to not be loyal to Beijing,” pro-democrat lawmaker Claudio Mo wrote in an op-ed after the ruling.

Some worry that Beijing can also be indicating a willingness to alter the structure at will. Earlier than the newest interpretation, the facility had solely been used 4 occasions prior to now 19 years.

Yau Wai-ching holds a court ruling as she leaves the High Court in Hong Kong on November 15, 2016.Yau Wai-ching holds a court ruling as she leaves the High Court in Hong Kong on November 15, 2016.

Why did Beijing act?

The oath-taking saga comes amid increasing support in Hong Kong for independence from China, which has prompted concern and outrage in Beijing.

Within the run-up to the LegCo elections in September, a number of pro-independence candidates had been banned from participating, together with Edward Leung (no relation to Baggio), then the city’s most famous separatist politician.

Yau and Leung’s actions “hit the underside line of the ‘one nation, two programs’ precept and posed a grave menace to nationwide sovereignty and safety,” China’s high lawmaking physique said in a statement this month.

Chinese language international ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said last week that “pro-independence forces in Hong Kong wish to cut up the nation.”

Leung accused his and Yau’s critics of “blaming the sufferer,” and argued that it’s Beijing which has fostered help for independence by its heavy-handed actions.

“They’re those who prompted a era of Hong Kongers to assume that ‘one nation, two programs,’ is not working,” he mentioned.

Yau added that individuals ought to acknowledge the association is “a failed experiment, no nation would select to rule a metropolis on this manner.”

If Hong Kong doesn’t change into unbiased, she mentioned, then it’s simply the identical as every other Chinese language metropolis.

Divided metropolis

Regardless of widespread outrage over Beijing’s intervention, together with mass protests, Yau and Leung have additionally are available in for a whirlwind of criticism, even from anti-Beijing quarters.

Chinese language state media said that it was “the need and demand of the whole inhabitants of China” that the pair be ejected, and pro-Beijing teams staged a protest towards them holding indicators equivalent to “Yau and Leung get out of China.”

Whereas different pro-democrat lawmakers have largely stood in solidarity with the pair, outdoors LegCo response has been decidedly combined, with some supporters even expressing frustration over Yau and Leung’s actions.

“Probably the most prevalent sentiment is that Yau and Leung have overplayed their palms — and quite unnecessarily so,” mentioned Jason Ng, a lawyer and creator of “Umbrellas in Bloom: Hong Kong’s occupy motion uncovered.”

“By doing what they did, they haven’t solely broken their very own politics careers, however they’ve additionally jeopardized these of different anti-establishment lawmakers.”

Yau and Leung have come in for intense criticism since their stunt.Yau and Leung have come in for intense criticism since their stunt.

Intense criticism

Whereas Yau and Leung mentioned they’re decided to maintain combating to the tip (the case has not but reached Hong Kong’s Court docket of Remaining Enchantment), it’s clear occasions are taking their toll.

Leung mentioned he was moved to tears studying an article quoting his election volunteers’ despair and dejection after months of labor to get him his seat was wasted.

“Most Hong Kongers are sympathetic to us,” Yau mentioned. At occasions nonetheless, criticism has turned private.

The youngest lady ever elected to LegCo, Yau has ceaselessly been the target of offensive and sexist comments, and at a protest final month pro-Beijing teams displayed a unadorned intercourse doll together with her face on it.

Whereas Yau denied that her gender has been an element, she mentioned the criticism has made her household fear for her security.

Paraphrasing a music lyric by Canto-rock singer Sweet Lo, Leung mentioned he might deal with being “deserted by the world” as long as he had one thing to like.

“Hong Kong is sort of a sinking ship,” he mentioned, however one he hoped to avoid wasting.