10th December 2023 – (Hong Kong) In the latest development surrounding electoral conduct, Hong Kong’s law enforcement agencies have heightened their focus on online activities related to the recent election. The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), the city’s watchdog for ethical governance, has detained a local clerk on allegations of engaging in digital incitement. This arrest unfolds against the backdrop of a controversial election that has witnessed a substantial overhaul of the city’s electoral system.
The detained clerk, a 51-year-old woman, was apprehended based on accusations of disseminating content on social media that could potentially undermine the electoral process. The contentious post, originally authored by Lee Man-ho, an exiled former district council member, suggested that voters should either refrain from participating in the election or spoil their ballots by inscribing personal details on them.
Highlighting the seriousness of the allegations, the ICAC has announced plans to seek legal advice on the possibility of pressing charges against the woman. Additionally, the commission has expressed its intention to obtain a court warrant for the arrest of Lee Man-ho, who currently resides beyond the reach of Hong Kong’s authorities.
The ICAC has taken a firm stance, asserting that the Elections Ordinance, the legislative framework governing the city’s elections, holds extraterritorial power. This implies that any action that can impact the election, regardless of where it originates, falls within the jurisdiction of Hong Kong’s legal system.
This arrest follows a pattern of similar incidents. The anti-corruption agency had previously reported the detention of two individuals under comparable allegations of online incitement aimed at influencing voter behaviour.
Hong Kong’s electoral landscape has undergone significant changes, with the most recent elections being the first to occur since the restructuring of the city’s district councils to ensure that only individuals deemed ‘patriots’ by Beijing can hold office. This restructuring has resulted in a complex electoral framework, where the city’s leader appoints a substantial number of councillors, and various committees are responsible for electing others.
The electoral process entailed the establishment of over 600 polling stations to accommodate the city’s 4.33 million registered voters, who were tasked with determining the fate of 88 out of the 470 seats in the revised councils. A total of 171 candidates contested for the geographical constituencies under the new system.
Earlier today, a couple was apprehended today for allegedly encouraging others to cast invalid votes during the District Council election. Both aged 41, the pair purportedly posted comments on a social media platform, urging individuals to mark three or more ticks on their ballot papers.
The couple consists of a woman holding the position of Clerical Officer at the Department of Health and an unemployed man. They are suspected of inciting voters to mark three or more “X” symbols on their ballots during the 2023 District Council General Elections, thereby encouraging invalid votes. Following a judge’s order, the ICAC conducted a search of their residence and seized their mobile phones. The couple is currently under investigation, and the ICAC does not rule out the possibility of further legal actions.