Democratic and pro-Beijing lawmakers scuffle in Hong Kong legislature

A scuffle broke out between rival Hong Kong lawmakers in their legislature on Friday, with huddles of politicians scrambling wildly to occupy the physical chair of the chairperson.

The small brawl is believed to have broken out as both pro-establishment and pan-democrat lawmakers feud over who should take control over various key legislative council committees — including the House Committee currently chaired by pro-Beijing lawmaker, Starry Lee.

Lee, chairperson of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, was the first to reach the contested chairperson’s seat and is seen sitting in it, surrounded by security. Scuffles broke out as others tried to make their way to the seat.

“If you are questioning my authority you can inquire through the legal advisor however you cannot stop the proceedings,” she is heard telling lawmakers on a live-stream webcast from the Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, known as LegCo.

Starry Lee, center, speaks as pan-democratic legislator Lam Cheuk-ting, right, scuffles with security guards.Kin Cheung / AP

Democrat lawmakers responded by shouting, “Starry Lee, step down!” and holding placards reading “ultra vires,” a Latin term for acting “beyond one’s powers.”

The parliamentary meeting was suspended as security appeared and so members could be treated by medics. It is not clear what types of injuries had been sustained.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, was returned to China in 1997 with a guarantee of its much-cherished freedoms, such as an independent judiciary, not enjoyed on the mainland. Beijing rejects criticism that it is seeking to erode those freedoms.

Hong Kong was shaken by clashes between police and pro-democracy protesters, which made global headlines last year. Brawls also broke out in the legislature last May over a proposed extradition law, which sparked the widespread protests and was later scrapped.

The arrest of prominent activists last month, including veteran politicians, a publishing tycoon and senior barristers, thrust the protest movement back into the spotlight and drew condemnation from Washington and international rights groups.

In the midst of tackling the coronavirus pandemic, Hong Kong’s Department of Health announced no new local confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Friday. Although there is no strict lockdown in place, authorities are urging people to maintain social distancing measures and minimize the risk of infection in their daily lives.

Social distancing amid the pandemic has largely put a brake on protests since January, but demonstrations are gaining ground once again and look likely to resume later this year.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Ed Flanagan and Justin Solomon contributed.