HONG KONG—On the rainy night in 1997 when the U.K. transferred Hong Kong to China, democracy leader Martin Lee stood on the balcony of the city’s legislature vowing to hold Beijing to its promises. China had agreed in the handover it would let the former colony govern itself under Western-style rule of law, including eventually electing its own leaders.

香蕉视频苹果下载“The flame of democracy has been ignited and is burning in the hearts of our people,” he said in a speech to supporters and journalists shortly after China’s flag was newly raised over Hong Kong. “It will not be extinguished.”

Following large and at times violent democracy protests that rocked the city last year, Beijing is now rapidly dismantling the hallmarks of self-governance in Hong Kong. Though the city never achieved full democracy, even the limited elections Mr. Lee fought for as co-founder of Hong Kong’s largest pro-democracy party are in doubt.

On Wednesday, Beijing forced the expulsion of four pro-democracy legislators who held seats filled through citywide elections. Officials said the legislators were expelled for disloyalty and suggested other expulsions could follow. The move triggered the resignations of most other members of the opposition and rendered the chamber a rubber-stamp for Hong Kong’s Beijing-appointed leader.

The low point for Hong Kong was also one for Mr. Lee, whose long career has been intertwined with the city’s suddenly collapsing bid to preserve its Western-style freedoms. A London-trained barrister, he turned to activism after the U.K. began negotiating the handover to China in the 1980s. He helped write the city’s constitution, and after helping open a minority of legislative seats to direct voting, led Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp to victories that made him the face of the movement until he retired from the legislature in 2008.

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