HK issues more arrest warrants for inciting blank votes

Pedestrians walk past election posters in Hong Kong on Dec 14, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

HONG KONG (AFP) - Hong Kong has issued arrest warrants accusing five overseas activists of urging voters to boycott Sunday’s (Dec 19) polls for the legislature – the first to take place under Beijing’s “patriots only” rules.

Voters in the Chinese finance hub will pick new lawmakers under rules that have cut the number of directly elected seats in the legislature to 20 from a total of 90 seats.

Most of the city’s traditional pro-democracy opposition have either been jailed, barred from standing, declined to take part or fled overseas.

Authorities accused Britain-based campaigner Nathan Law of inciting people to boycott the vote during a web conference held earlier this month.

It is not illegal in Hong Kong to cast spoiled ballots or refrain from voting, but this year it became a crime to incite others to a boycott or cast invalid ballots.

Offenders face up to three years behind bars and a fine of HK$200,000 (S$35,000)

The arrest warrants also named Sunny Cheung, Timothy Lee, Carmen Lau and Kawai Lee – all of whom have left Hong Kong.

The group hosted a livestream on social media Thursday during which they allegedly urged voters to stay home.

Authorities also cited social media content posted by Cheung, who is currently seeking asylum in the United States.

Cheung earlier told AFP that Hong Kongers should not “endorse the autocratic regime and help the regime to pursue a pseudo-democratic veil”.

Last month Hong Kong issued similar arrest warrants for two other overseas activists including former lawmaker Ted Hui.

A further 10 people have been arrested inside the city and two formally charged.

Hong Kong’s anti-corruption agency said investigations were ongoing and it would continue to take resolute enforcement action.

Law was invited to speak at a summit organised by the United States last week in which President Joe Biden hosted representatives of more than 100 countries to advance the cause of democracy.

His remarks at the meeting were denounced by Hong Kong officials but were not cited in the arrest warrants.

Beijing says Hong Kong’s new voting system will put Hong Kong back on track after the city was rocked by huge and often violent democracy protests two years ago.

Critics counter that China has all but banned opposition politics and violated promises it made to maintain Hong Kong’s freedom and autonomy after the city returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

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