Legal scholar Tai Yiu-ting called on people to vote against political manipulation in Hong Kong
Hong Kong’s District Court will sentence Benny Tai Yiu-ting, a renowned scholar in Hong Kong, on four charges of violating the election ordinance after he placed an advertisement calling on the public to “vote strategically” against political manipulation in the 2016 Legal Council election.
Tai Yiu-ting pleaded guilty on April 25 in the District Court. The verdict will be postponed to May 24, according to Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC.)
Two other defendants in the same case signed a 12-month binding-over order with a bail of HK$40,000 (about $5,095.)
ICAC earlier accused the three of posting six advertisements in Ming Pao and Apple Daily—Hong Kong’s two influential local newspapers—that incurred illegal election expenses totaling over HK$253,000 (about $32,230) in the 2016 Legislative Council general election, citing that they were not candidates or election expense agents for candidates.
In 2016, Tai Yiu-ting, then associate professor at the University of Hong Kong’s Law Department, proposed the “ThunderGo” initiative that aimed to reverse the situation of the Legislative Council being manipulated by the pro-Beijing camp.
Hong Kong was expected to achieve universal suffrage of “one person, one vote,” a goal set for The Basic Law by the Chief Executive and all members of the Legislative Council when its sovereignty was handed over to China in 1997.
But Hong Kong runs counter to the law. Half of the seats in the Legislative Council are elected by minority-controlled functional constituencies, most of which are in the saddle of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
In the hope of a democratic political environment, Tai planned, through the “ThunderGo” project, to enable the opposite camp or pan-democrats to attain over half of the seats in the election.
ThunderGo is programmed to concentrate votes by coordinating with the opposition camp and reducing the number of candidates, with the goal of securing half of the seats for the camp in the election. Tens of thousands of pro-democracy supporters could form the “Thunderbolt rescue force” making the vote count be based on consideration of ideal candidate and winning-out possibilities.
In order to promote the project and recruit staff, Tai placed advertisements in newspapers through Eggs Alliance Company, some titled “Fight against political manipulation, participate in strategic voting” and “The ultimate confrontation, kick out the royalists,” calling on voters to vote strategically, Radio Free Asia reported on April 25.
The efforts of Tai and pro-democracy supporters were likely rewarded, as the opposition camp gained an unprecedented 30 seats in the district direct election, out of a total of 70 seats. They retained the right to veto in the division and gained one more seat than the previous term.
The Pro-Beijing camp got 40 seats, 2 fewer than last term, according to Singapore-based media The Initium on Sept. 4, 2016.
However, five years after the election, ICAC filed a case against Tai Yiu-ting and two directors of the Eggs Alliance Company for allegedly violating the Elections Ordinance (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct).
On the morning of April 25, Tai’s lawyer claimed in the District Court that the case differs from ordinary election fraud cases, as the defendant merely appealed to voters to vote strategically in order to reverse the previous situation where the pan-democratic camp had more votes but fewer seats.
The defense also said that Tai did not personally benefit, the preparation process was transparent and open, the money was raised from the public, no fraud was involved, and the fairness of the election was not affected. The defendant could not report the election expenses just because he did not represent any candidate.
The judge responded that the prosecution has nothing to do with the “ThunderGo” project, nor was it a political prosecution, but rather a charge of unlawful incurrence of election expenses.
Notably, such allegations came after Tai had been detained for six months. Tai and 52 other prominent Hong Kong democrats were arrested on Jan. 6, 2021, for allegedly violating Hong Kong’s version of the National Security Law in the 2020 Legislative Council primary election.
Forty-seven of them were later prosecuted for “conspiracy to subvert state power,” a case that has yet to reach the formal sentencing stage.
On June 30, 2020, Beijing’s congress passed the Hong Kong version of the National Security Law and incorporated it into the Hong Kong Basic Law in the form of an annex.
As one of nine people who led the Umbrella Movement, Tai Yiu-ting received a 16-month prison sentence on 24 April, 2019 for alleged “incitement to incite public nuisance.”
From September to December 2014, a slew of civil disobedience campaigns for genuine universal suffrage took place in Hong Kong. More than 100,000 protesters took to major thoroughfares and staged sit-ins and marches. The main symbol of this movement was the yellow umbrella, hence it was named the “Umbrella Movement.”
Although the Umbrella Movement was eventually suppressed by the police, it is credited with awakening the political consciousness of Hong Kong people.
The other eight initiators of this pro-democracy campaign are Chan Kin-man, a professor of sociology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Chu Yiu-ming, a minister at the Chai Wan Baptist Church; Raphael Wong Ho-ming, leader of the League of Social Democrats; Shiu Ka-chun, a social worker and member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong; Lee Wing-tat, a former member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong; Tanya Chan Suk-chong, a member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong; Eason Chung Yiu-wa and Tommy Cheung Sau-yin, both former student union leaders, according to Front Line Defenders, Irish-based human rights organization on April 30, 2019.