Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Benny Tai in the Hot Seat

Benny Tai believes Beijing wants to make an example out of him
Last week Benny Tai Yiu-ting was in Taipei speaking at a seminar organized by the Taiwan Youth Anti-Communist Corps.

He said that if "dictatorship" ends in China, the country's various ethnic groups could exercise the right to self-determination and decide how they could link up with each other.

"We could consider going independent, being part of a federal system or a confederation system similar to that of the European Union," he said.

Only a small minority want Hong Kong independence
Afterwards the pro-Beijing establishment in Hong Kong swiftly condemned Tai, hinting again that he was not qualified to teach at the University of Hong Kong, while the Hong Kong Government said it was "shocked", claiming Tai was invoking separatism.

The State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) spokesman said it believed "a small number of people in Hong Kong have colluded with external separatist forces" to advocate the city's independence.

"They have fully exposed their attempts to split the country and violated the national constitution, the Hong Kong Basic Law, and the relevant laws in Hong Kong. They are challenging the bottom line of 'one country, two systems'. Such activities must not be ignored or tolerated," the spokesman said.

Meanwhile Tai was "shocked" by the criticism heaped on him by numerous pro-Beijing lawmakers and the HKMAO, saying his comments were not new, and were "imaginations of the future" and did not violate any criminal laws. Chinese state media also chimed in that someone like Tai should not be given a platform.

Grenville Cross says Tai is not criminally liable for his speech
He believes he is being condemned and made an example to intimidate others from discussing the possibility of democracy in Hong Kong.

"It is a calculated plot against me... to [declare] that any discussion on Hong Kong independence -- albeit not directly endorsing [the notion] -- will not be allowed in society and universities," the HKU law academic said.

Former director of prosecutions Grenville Cross also says Tai's comments are not criminal.

"Tai has not actually advocated independence in his Taiwan remarks," said Cross. "He simply suggested it as one of several possibilities if certain hypothetical events were to happen. This falls short of being criminal under either the existing sedition law or the 2003 [national security law] proposals."

He adds even if someone were to publicly advocate independence, no law would be broken if it was done peacefully, and if someone were to be prosecuted for sedition, there would need to be proof of inciting violence, promoting hatred and stirring up ill will.

Hong Kong's freedoms must be protected
However Tai won't be surprised if the government pushes through a bill to make any talk of independence -- violent or not -- punishable under Article 23. That would severely limit people's right to freedom of speech according to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, he says.

This is the pro-Beijing camp's attempt to further shred the credibility of the pro-democratic camp, which is still reeling from the recent by-elections in which its results were disappointing.

Nevertheless, 24 pan-democratic lawmakers issued a joint statement backing Tai, vowing to "resolutely defend academic freedom" and insisting the law scholar was entitled to his academic analysis.

They urged all parties to stop attacking Tai and warned that "Hong Kong will no longer be Hong Kong" without free speech.

This pathetic need to destroy Tai isn't working -- it's not good for the city nor society to kill freedom of speech over hypothetical ideas.

We need to do whatever we can to protect the freedoms we have left.

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