Netizens arrested for inciting others to cast blank votes

Local | 9 Nov 2021 9:46 pm

Three people who allegedly shared an online post calling for people to cast blank votes in the Legislative Council elections next month have been arrested by the city’s anti-corruption watchdog, the first time after the actions have been banned since May.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption said on Tuesday that the two men and a woman, aged 29 to 65 were arrested for inciting others to cast blank votes in public during the election period before the Legco elections on December 19, breaching the Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance.

Sources said they are not prominent political figures but average netizens. They have been released on ICAC bail pending further investigation.

“The three arrestees have allegedly breached [the election ordinance] during the election period of the 2021 Legco election by reposting an online post which appealed to the public for casting blank votes at the election,” the ICAC said.

During the operation, the ICAC also seized a number of mobile phones, as it said more arrests might be made in the future as investigation continues.

“In accordance with established procedures, the findings of an investigation will be forwarded to the Department of Justice upon completion of the investigation for legal advice on whether there is sufficient evidence to instigate a prosecution,” it said.

The ICAC also reminded citizens that the election period already started on October 30 when the election was open for nominations, and ends until the polling day on December 19.

“The ICAC will take resolute enforcement actions to combat conduct manipulating and sabotaging the election,” it wrote, as it reminded that citizens could face a maximum penalty of a three-year imprisonment and a fine of HK$200,000 upon conviction.

In May, lawmakers passed an amendment bill to the ordinance to ban behaviors to incite another person not to vote, or to cast invalid vote, by activity in public during election period.

“The commission urges members of the public to abide by the law, and not to engage in making illegal appeals or repost any unlawful contents in order to uphold a fair and clean election,” it added.

The arrests came hours after Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor warned citizens that inciting others to either not cast a vote or cast an invalid or blank cote could breach the ordinance.

"So I will forewarn that people should not try to breach the law by inciting, promoting activities that will undermine the integrity of a public election. If we notice that there is any sort of that activity, law enforcement will take very robust action," Lam said.

Two weeks ago self-exiled former lawmaker Ted Hui Chi-fung made an appeal on his Facebook, calling on Hongkongers to cast blank votes in the Legco election, adding he aimed at achieving the highest number of blank votes in the history of Hong Kong elections, and for blank votes to exceed the number of valid votes in geographical constituency.

In a blog post on Monday, Secretary for Security Chris Tang Ping-keung criticized Hui’s action as "despicably inciting people to break the law".

Hui responded to Tang’s remarks on Facebook later that day, saying that it is legal for people to cast blank or invalid votes, or even boycotting the election.

Noting that he is already facing 13 criminal charges, Hui said his personal and speech freedom would not be affected even if the Hong Kong government decided to put more accusations on him.

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