Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption has arrested two men and a woman on suspicion of “inciting another person not to vote, or to cast invalid vote, by activity in public during election period.”

The three, aged 22 to 57, stand accused of reposting an online post inciting others to cast a blank ballot in the upcoming “patriots only” Legislative Council election on December 19.

ICAC. File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

The trio were released on bail on Thursday after the ICAC seized a number of mobile phones. A total of six people have now been arrested for the offence.

“The ICAC urges members of the public to abide by the law, and not to engage in making illegal appeals or repost unlawful contents, in order to uphold a fair and clean election,” an ICAC statement said. “The Commission will continue to take resolute enforcement actions to combat conduct manipulating or undermining the election to ensure that it will be held in a fair and just manner.”

Under Section 27A of the Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance, violators face a maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment and a fine of HK$200,000.

Last week, the ICAC said that two self-exiled democrats were wanted for inciting people not to vote, or to cast invalid votes. Ex-lawmaker Ted Hui and former district councillor Yau Man-chun had made social media posts urging Hongkongers to cast blank votes and boycott the elections. Hui is now in Australia while Yau is in the UK.

Former district councillor Yau Man-chun and former lawmaker Ted Hui. Photo: Facebook and May James/HKFP.

Last month, Chief Executive Carrie Lam evaded the question when asked by HKFP if blank votes were indeed legal. She said the authorities will need to refer to the law and relevant evidence in each case, adding that it will be up to the city’s independent prosecutors to press charges and for the courts to make a judgement.

However, when Simon Peh, head of the city’s anti-corruption body, was asked over the weekend, he said that “voters will not break the law by exercising their own free will.”

First ‘patriots only’ election

The Legislative Council polls are the first since Beijing ordered a sweeping electoral overhaul that effectively barred members of the opposition from running.

All candidates contesting the December 19 elections were subject to a multilayer vetting mechanism led by government officials to ensure that they are “patriots.”

Just 20 of the 90 legislative seats will be directly elected, compared to 35 out of 70 before Beijing’s shake-up.

The Registration and Electoral Office hosts training sessions for electoral staff of 2021 Legislative Council General Election. Photo: GovHK.

Democrats and some local election experts have criticised the revamp, calling it a “huge regression in democracy,” whilst most pro-democracy figures remain behind bars, in self-exile abroad, or have quit politics altogether.

Authorities, however, have maintained that the elections will be “competitive.”

The elections will also be the first in which Hong Kong residents in mainland China will be allowed to vote, with three voting stations set up at the Lo Wu, Heung Yuen Wai and Futian control points along the border.

Neither reporters nor members of the public will be allowed to observe vote-counting at these stations.

LATEST on the ‘patriots only’ poll

Support press freedom & help us surpass 1,000 monthly Patrons: 100% independent, governed by an ethics code & not-for-profit, Hong Kong Free Press is #PressingOn with impartial, award-winning, frontline coverage.

Tom is the editor-in-chief and founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications & New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Al-Jazeera and others.