A leading activist jailed over the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement has been transferred to solitary confinement after he joined Monday’s general strike while in prison.

Legal scholar Benny Tai, one of the original proponents of the 2014 street occupation protests, was sentenced to 16 months in jail in April over public nuisance charges.

Occupy nine sentencing
Benny Tai. Photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Gary Fan said on Wednesday that he visited Tai in prison: “Benny Tai told me that he joined the city-wide general strike on August 5, and rejected the work assigned to him by the authorities.”

“This act went against the discipline imposed by prison authorities, therefore he is currently held in solitary confinement. It is unclear what the authorities’ next step is,” Fan wrote on Facebook.

Tai is serving his sentence at Shek Pik Prison, a high-security facility on Lantau Island. Citing an hour-long meeting with Tai, Fan said that the academic had become thinner but was still energetic.

Tai has spent a lot of time reading and was following the recent protests via the radio. He was aware of the mass arrests by the police, the lawmaker added.

shek pik prison
Shek Pik Prison. File photo: Wikimedia commons.

In April, Tai was convicted of two charges related to public nuisance, and was sentenced to jail later that month. District court judge Johnny Chan said at the time that Tai and the other defendants did not express any regret, and the 2014 protests caused “excessive damage and inconvenience” to the public.

Tai has lodged appeals against both his conviction and sentence. His application will be heard by the court on August 15.

In a letter from prison last month, Tai noted that Hongkongers are becoming more accepting of violent protests because the city’s leaders have ignored years of peaceful demonstrations. “Only democratic reform can resolve the conflicts or open a door to the resolution,” he wrote.

Members of the pro-Beijing camp, including lawmaker Junius Ho, have called on the University of Hong Kong (HKU) to dismiss Tai over his criminal conviction.

benny tai
Benny Tai. File photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

In 2018, local NGO the Society for Community Organisation called on the government to greatly reduce the use of solitary confinement, saying that the rules that govern its use were vague and under-regulated.

The UN Human Rights Committee has said that solitary confinement is a harsh penalty with serious psychological consequences. It said its use, other than in exceptional circumstances and for limited periods, is inconsistent the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and may amount to torture. Hong Kong is an ICCPR signatory.

The Correctional Services Department said it would not comment on individual cases due to privacy reasons.

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.