Hong Kong charges four for reposting election boycott calls

Four people in Hong Kong were charged on Wednesday for reposting social media content by democracy activists calling for a boycott of the city's "patriots only" election last December.

Authorities last year made it illegal to encourage anyone to boycott elections or to spoil their ballots, with offenders facing up to three years in jail and a maximum fine of HK$200,000 ($25,000).

After Hong Kong saw huge and sometimes violent democracy protests in 2019, authorities cracked down on dissent and arrested opponents while Beijing imposed new rules that ensured only "staunch patriots" could stand for office.

Some overseas Hong Kong campaigners -- including former pro-democracy lawmaker Ted Hui -- decried the new rules and urged the public to reject the latest elections as a sham.

The four people charged on Wednesday, aged 29 to 58, allegedly reposted or displayed material that "incited others to cast blank votes or not to vote", according to Hong Kong's anti-graft agency.

Two of them -- 42-year-old physiotherapist Wong Chi-yan and 58-year-old Mabel Yick -- were accused of sharing content authored by former legislator Hui.

The other lawbreaking content allegedly originated from democracy campaigner Sunny Cheung and former district councillor Yau Man-chun, both of whom are also overseas.

Arrest warrants have been issued against all three original authors since late last year, the Independent Commission Against Corruption said in a statement.

At least six exiled democracy activists are wanted by the ICAC over the offence of inciting others not to vote.

That law does not make it illegal for individuals to void ballots or refuse to vote.

Hong Kong is not a democracy -- the source of years of protests that were eventually crushed by prosecutions and a national security law that has criminalised much dissent.

Just under a quarter of seats in the city's legislature are directly elected under a new "patriots only" system Beijing installed last year.

All candidates had to be vetted for political loyalty, meaning the city's traditional pro-democracy opposition was frozen out.

The poll drew record-low turnout and returned a 90-seat legislature stacked with government loyalists and devoid of any opposition.

hol/jta/mtp