The chair of the Democratic Party has said that the party will not vote if the legislature tables a censure motion against lawmaker Ted Hui for snatching a phone from a government staff member.

The party’s chair Wu Chi-wai said on Thursday that the party would not vote in order to avoid a conflict of interest. He said the decision was based on past experience, but did not specify what past incidents he was referring to.

A censure motion requires the votes of two-thirds of lawmakers in attendance to pass. The legislature has 68 members, of which 25 belong to the pro-democracy camp – not including neutral medical sector lawmaker Pierre Chan. If the Democratic Party – which holds seven seats – does not attend the meeting, Hui may be at risk of disqualification.

ted hui phone
James To, Ted Hui and Wu Chi-wai.

Wu said Hui’s behaviour of snatching a phone from a government executive officer was unacceptable. Hui claimed that his intention was to expose the government’s breach of lawmakers’ privacy. Members of the pro-Beijing camp have called for his resignation, and said he may have committed a criminal offence.

The female officer, who works for the Security Bureau, filed a police report, and the police went to the legislature on Wednesday to gather evidence.

The incident occurred Tuesday morning outside a meeting room, as the officer was trying to prevent a bills committee meeting discussing the high-speed rail joint checkpoint arrangement from being adjourned prematurely owing to lack of quorum.

As the officer was calling lawmakers to ask them to return to the meeting, Hui took the phone from her and entered a men’s washroom to look through the device. It was later returned to the officer.

Paparazzi team

Executive officers are responsible for administrative tasks. Those working in the Legislative Council building – commonly known to lawmakers as paparazzi – are often assigned to keep track of lawmakers and their whereabouts.

Some lawmakers have expressed discontent towards the officers and their task. The Privacy Commissioner previously said in a statement on the subject that lawmakers should reasonably expect to be observed while they are in a public place. However, the commissioner added that government staff members should delete the information they gathered about lawmakers’ movements as soon as they complete their duties every day.

Ted Hui
Ted Hui.

Hui issued a letter of apology addressed to the officer on Thursday. “I offer you my sincere apology,” he said. “I deeply understand that as a staff member, you were performing your duties. I understand that my behaviour may have startled you or made you feel bad – I admit my behaviour was inappropriate.”

“I hope you can understand that my behaviour was intended to expose the government’s breach of privacy and inappropriate intervention in Legislative Council affairs – I was absolutely not targeting your own work.”

“But regardless of the reason for my inappropriate behaviour, it was no excuse to offend you.”

Strong condemnation

The Legislative Council Commission, a body formed by lawmakers to handle administrative matters, held a special meeting on Thursday and watched a CCTV recording of the incident.

The video will not be made public owing to privacy concerns, unless everyone in the video gives their consent. But the Commission’s President Andrew Leung said another special meeting will be held for all lawmakers to view the clip on Friday.

Leung said the Commission unanimously agreed to issue a letter of strong condemnation: “Hui’s behaviour brought shame to the Legislative Council and violated public expectations for lawmakers.”

Andrew Leung
Andrew Leung. Photo: LegCo.

Pro-Beijing lawmaker Starry Lee said there should be new mechanisms to handle similar incidents.

“It’s been many years – from throwing bananas, insulting officials and snatching documents, to snatching phones – the Legislative Council cannot do much other than issuing a warning letter,” she said.

“Some lawmakers may not be to able to stand it and table a censure motion. But some lawmakers believe that it is not enough to have one tool,” she added.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.