Hong Kong leader says ‘protest’ pro-democracy vote could have violated new security laws

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said Monday that an unofficial city-wide election by the pro-democracy camp over the weekend could have violated new national security laws by “subverting the state power. ”

Hong Kong Executive Director Carrie Lam, wearing a protective mask, speaks during a press conference on the global outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Hong Kong, China, July 13, 2020. REUTERS / Tyrone Siu

The weekend’s election garnered more than 600,000 votes, in what Democrats described as a symbolic vote of protest against new harsh laws imposed by Beijing on the former British colony.

Voting in around 250 polling stations was conducted to decide the strongest pro-democracy candidates to contest the key Legislative Council elections in September.

The city’s opposition camp aims to seize majority control in the 70-seat legislature for the first time from pro-Beijing rivals by riding a wave of anti-China sentiment triggered by the law, which critics say has seriously undermined Hong Kong freedoms.

The city returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the guarantee of wide autonomy.

The new law punishes secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with life imprisonment and allows mainland Chinese security officers to officially operate in Hong Kong for the first time.

Lam told reporters that if the Democrats’ goal of obtaining a legislative majority was to obstruct government policies, “then it could fall into the category of subverting state power.” She did not elaborate.

One of the organizers of the elections, Benny Tai, told reporters that the poll results had been leaked before an official announcement. But he said there was no violation of voters’ personal data.

Last Friday, Hong Kong police raided the office of the independent pollster who helped with the elections, and officers copied certain information from computers there.

The Hong Kong Office of Constitutional and Continental Affairs said in a statement Monday night that it had received public complaints that the weekend poll could have “jeopardized the integrity of the electoral process.”

He added that he was now conducting an investigation and that he could later refer the case to law enforcement agencies.

Preliminary results showed that several incumbent Democratic lawmakers like Ted Hui and Eddie Chu garnered the most votes in some districts.

But a group of aspiring young Democrats, or “locals,” also performed well, reflecting a possible changing of the guard as Democrats prepare for the September poll.

“It’s just the beginning,” one candidate, Sunny Cheung, a runner-up in a district that put him on the Democratic ballot for September, told Reuters.

“I will try to persuade more people to support us,” he added, saying that locals like him were gaining more mainstream support.

Reports from Jessie Pang and James Pomfret; Editing by Nick Macfie

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