Asking people not to vote or cast an invalid ballot in Hong Kong’s legislative election next month may violate the national security law, the city’s security minister has warned, as he slammed a self-exiled former lawmaker as “despicable” for making such calls.

In a blog post published on Monday, Secretary for Security Chris Tang pointed the finger at Australia-based activist Ted Hui, who urged Hong Kong voters to register a blank or void ballot in what he described as a Beijing-manipulated Legislative Council (LegCo) election.

Secretary for Security Chris Tang attends the delivery of the Policy Address 2021 in the Legislative Council on October 6, 2021. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Anyone who incites others to boycott the polls scheduled for December 19 – whether they are in Hong Kong or not – would already be in breach of the Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance, Tang said. The offence is punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of up to HK$200,000, as stipulated in new provisions added to the legislation in May as part of a Beijing-led electoral overhaul to ensure only “patriots” hold power in the city.

“These illegal behaviours, disrupting the election, may also violate relevant provisions in the ‘Hong Kong National Security Law’,” Tang wrote.

The security chief questioned why the ex-Democratic Party politician was not returning to the city to take part in the “so-called resistance” he proposed, if Hui believed casting blank votes was a “reasonable” means to shun the LegCo election.

Hui may be taken into custody if he were to return to Hong Kong after he fled last December while on court bail. He was facing at least nine criminal charges, but left the city with the help from Danish politicians who arranged a series of fake meetings.

It was “cowardly behaviour” for Hui to flee, Tang said, while warning the public not to take part in his “unlawful appeal,” or re-share any illicit content.

Ted Hui photographed at the Heathrow Airport in March before he left the UK for Australia. Photo: May James/HKFP.

“[Hui] is despicably inciting citizens to break the law. As the saying goes, ‘asking people to go forward while staying back yourself’ – this behaviour is deplorable,” said the former police commissioner who was promoted in June to lead the Security Bureau.

Next month’s election will be the city’s first general polls under revamped rules set out by Beijing to ensure only “patriots” hold power. The major overhaul passed in May reduced the ratio of directly-elected legislators to a “historic low,” according to elections experts, while all candidates will undergo national security screening.

Ahead of the nomination deadline on Friday, Tang appealed to “capable persons who love the country and Hong Kong” to enter the race. He also encouraged citizens to “enthusiastically” cast their votes to elect lawmakers and help the government to improve its governance.

In March, 2021, Beijing passed legislation to ensure “patriots” govern Hong Kong. The move reduced democratic representation in the legislature, tightened control of elections and introduced a pro-Beijing vetting panel to select candidates. The Hong Kong government said the overhaul would ensure the city’s stability and prosperity. But the changes also prompted international condemnation, as it makes it near-impossible for pro-democracy candidates to stand.

Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.