Two people have been charged by Hong Kong’s anti-corruption agency for allegedly sharing online posts calling for the casting of blank votes in the upcoming legislative election.

ICAC hong kong
File Photo: HKFP/Tom Grundy.

On Thursday, a day after the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) arrested four people suspected of the same offence, the anti-graft agency said salesperson Chan Kin-man, 36, and office assistant Leung Yuet-Seung, 65, had been charged with one count of engaging in illegal conduct to incite another person not to vote, or to cast invalid vote.

The pair are accused of sharing a social media post by democrat and former lawmaker Ted Hui, who is in self-imposed exile in Australia, according to an ICAC statement. Hui’s post called on Hongkongers to cast blank votes in the upcoming “patriots only” legislative election as a form of “silent protest.”

The charges came a day after four other people were arrested – three males and one female – on suspicion of committing the same offence. One of them was Jacky So, 22, former head of the Chinese University of Hong Kong’ student union.

The two defendants – who were arrested on separate occasions earlier – were released on bail pending court appearance while investigation continues.

Two computers and several mobile phones were seized during Wednesday’s arrests as part of the anti-graft body’s investigation.

Jacky So
Jacky So (centre). File Photo: via CC 2.0.

So was accused of sharing Hui’s online post on his personal Facebook account on October 30. The ICAC said its probe was continuing and further action may be taken.

As of Wednesday, a total of 10 people have been detained for allegedly “inciting others to cast blank votes or not voting” in the December 19 election. All 10, including the two charged on Thursday, have been released on bail.

According to Stand News, at least three of the 10 were arrested in connection with the sharing of Hui’s post.

Hui, together with former district councillor Yau Man-chun, who fled Hong Kong for the United Kingdom earlier this year, are wanted by ICAC. The commission said it would demand related social media platforms remove the “illegal content” they posted. However, Hui’s original post could still be seen on Facebook on Thursday.

‘Free will’

In May, a Beijing-led election overhaul in the city made it illegal to incite the casting of invalid votes and to obstruct others from voting.

An independent public opinion research organisation has been warned by ICAC that it may be in breach of the law by publishing a survey asking whether Hongkongers plan to vote in the upcoming poll.

However, Simon Peh, the head of ICAC said earlier this month that casting blank votes would not be illegal, “voters will not break the law by exercising their own free will,” said Peh.

Legislative Council election 2021
Publicity materials promoting the Legislative Council election scheduled on December 19, 2021. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Hong Kong is three days away from its first “patriots only” Legislative Council election.

Under the new election rules, all candidates have been subject multiple layers of vetting led by government officials to ensure that they are “patriots.” The number of directly elected seats in the legislature was also trimmed.

Traditional political parties from the pro-democracy camp are not standing candidates in the election, while most of the city’s prominent pro-democracy figures remain either behind bars, in self-exile abroad, or have quit politics altogether.

Democrats and some local election experts have criticised the revamp, describing it as a “huge regression in democracy.” The Hong Kong authorities, however, maintain that the elections are “competitive.”

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Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.