Two charged in Hong Kong for 'inciting' others to cast blank ballots in protest

Ten people have been arrested on similar charges as the UK hits out at changes to the city's electoral system.
By Lu Xi and Fong Tak Ho
2021.12.16
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Two charged in Hong Kong for 'inciting' others to cast blank ballots in protest A woman walks past banners showing candidates for election to Hong Kong's Legislative Council, Dec. 16, 2021.
AFP

Authorities in Hong Kong on Thursday charged two people for inciting others to cast blank votes in an election that has been criticized as unfair, given that only candidates approved by a Beijing-backed committee may stand.

The city's Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) charged Chan Kin-man, a 36-year-old salesman, and Leung Yuk-cheung, a 65-year-old office worker, under the Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance.

The pair are accused under Hong Kong's recently amended electoral law of publicly calling on others to cast invalid votes after allegedly retweeting a post from exiled pro-democracy politician Ted Hui.

"[The law] stipulates that 'activity in public' includes any form of communication to the public, and the distribution or dissemination of any matter to the public," the ICAC said in a statement.

Warrants are also out for the arrest of former pro-democracy district councilor Yau Man-chun and former opposition lawmaker Ted Hui, both of whom have fled the city, also for inciting others to boycott Sunday's elections to the Legislative Council (LegCo).

Ten people have been arrested on suspicion of the same offense in recent weeks.

The arrests came as the U.K. hit out at recent changes to Hong Kong's electoral system in the wake of a national security law imposed on the city by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from July 1, 2020.

Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs Liz Truss said recent curtailment of space for the free expression of dissent "continues to weaken checks and balances on executive power."

"The radical electoral changes imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing in March 2021 ... mean that parties not closely aligned with ... mainland [China] or that are not pro-establishment will be excluded almost entirely from the legislature," Truss said, adding that the changes were in breach of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration governing the 1997 handover of the former British colony to China.

"Many members of the pro-democracy political opposition are now in pre-trial detention facing charges under the national security law," Truss said in a statement as the British government published a six-monthly report on Hong Kong this week. "Yet more have been silenced through prosecutions that we assess to be politically motivated."

Strong words, little action

Sam Goodman, a senior policy adviser for the London-based rights group Hong Kong Watch, said the government's statement was strongly worded, but wasn't matched by its actions.

"There comes a point really where the U.K. government has to meet its legal, historic and moral commitment to the people of Hong Kong, and that requires concerted action," Goodman told RFA.

"It's no good pointing to the suspension of the extradition treaty or the extension of arms control that they announced, you know, more than a year ago ... I think at some point, there is an expectation that the British government will hold China to account for its now active breach of the treaty," he said.

Hong Kong Watch is currently running a social media campaign with the hashtag #ReleaseMyCandidate, highlighting the ongoing detention of dozens of pro-democracy activists and former opposition politicians, either for taking part in peaceful protests, or for "subversion" under the national security law.

Meanwhile, ICAC commissioner Simon Peh has warned that public opinion polls that ask Hongkongers about their intention to vote in Sunday's elections could be illegal.

A recent opinion poll found that just under half of Hongkongers expressed an interest in voting in the poll.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam recently claimed that the forecast low turnout was likely the result of strong public satisfaction with the work of her government.

UK media reports indicate that the government is considering expanding the BNO Visa scheme to help Hongkongers under 25, many of whom played a prominent role in the 2019 protest movement, who have one parent who holds a BNO passport.

Nearly 90,000 Hong Kong residents have applied to the scheme since its launch in January 2021, according to government statistics.

China on Wednesday expressed "strong dissatisfaction" with the U.K. report, accusing it of "maliciously discrediting" the national security and election laws.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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