It was “arrogant” and “irresponsible” for Hong Kong legal scholar Benny Tai, one of 47 pro-democracy figures prosecuted in the city’s largest national security case, to publish an article that threatened to force the authorities to respond to 2019 protesters’ five demands, a local court has heard. 

Andrew Chiu
Andrew Chiu. File photo: Andrew Chiu, via Facebook.

Ex-district councillor Andrew Chiu, who earlier pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit subversion, said on Friday that he was “infuriated” by an article written by co-defendant Tai. Chiu was testifying for the prosecution in the landmark trial surrounding an unofficial legislative primary election held in July 2020. 

The article, published in April 2020, stated that the pro-democracy camp hoped to win more than half of the seats in the Legislative Council in an election scheduled for September that year. If they were successful, they were able to veto the financial budget, they could trigger a series of events, including the dissolution of the legislature and a government shutdown, Tai wrote.

Then-associate law professor at the University of Hong Kong, Tai also mentioned it was a pro-democracy camp tactic to use “mutual destruction” to force Hong Kong and central authorities to concede to the five demands put forward by protesters in 2019, when mass demonstrations erupted over a since-axed extradition bill. 

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A placard said “Five demands, not one less.” File photo: May James/HKFP.

The five demands were: for the government to withdraw the bill, set up an independent inquiry into accusations of excessive use of police force, scrap its designation of the protests as riots, release all those arrested, and implement “double universal suffrage” for the Legislative Council and chief executive elections.

When asked by lead prosecutor Jonathan Man whether he had read the article at the time, Chiu said he had not. He went on to say that during meetings held by the democrats in the run-up to the primary election, some expressed support for Tai’s ideas, while the traditional pro-democracy parties had their doubts. 

Chiu accused Tai of publishing the article before a consensus was reached within the camp. He slammed the piece as “seditious,” adding that Tai wrote as if he were a “big prophet.” 

“I read the article for the first time just now. Looking at the wording, I am so infuriated,” Chiu told a panel of three designated judges presiding the case. 

Benny Tai
Benny Tai. File photo: Etan Liam, via Flickr.

“Without reaching a consensus, [Tai acted like] the leader of the pro-democracy camp in Hong Kong. He said the democrats would do this, which is a totally arrogant and irresponsible behaviour,” he added. 

Chiu was also the ex-convenor of defunct political group Power for Democracy, which was said to have facilitated the primaries by helping coordinate participating candidates, recruiting volunteers and publicising the polls, among other roles.

The “original objective” for the group to coordinate the primaries was to help the pro-democracy camp seize majority control in the legislature, and use that to reflect public opinion and promote policies that would be beneficial to people’s livelihoods Chiu said.

He and his group would not have agreed to help organise the primaries if they had read Tai’s article carefully, Chiu said.

“It is very obvious that Benny Tai had become very restless. Through the democrats’ participation in the election and winning a majority of seats, he aims to counterbalance the leadership of the central and local governments,” he said. 

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Friday marked Day 36 of a non-jury trial of 16 democracy advocates who pleaded not guilty to the charge. It is estimated that the trial will last for at least 90 days. The remaining defendants, some of whom have been detained for more than two years, face being sentenced to up to life in prison after the trial concludes. 

Chiu will continue to testify as an accomplice witness against his peers next Monday. 

In June 2020, Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – bypassing the local legislature – following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure. The move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China. However, the authorities say it has restored stability and peace to the city.

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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.