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Benny Tai Yiu-ting

Benny Tai faces Hong Kong court action to revoke passport in independence remarks row

Lawyer lodges High Court writ over academic’s remarks in Taiwan

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 April, 2018, 7:07pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 April, 2018, 1:11pm

A Hong Kong lawyer is seeking to have Benny Tai Yiu-ting’s passport revoked following the controversial academic’s recent comments in Taiwan, arguing they promoted the island’s independence and essentially denounced the speaker’s Chinese nationality.

Jimmy Siu See-kong said in a writ against Tai and the director of immigration that the government should ask for the academic to surrender his passport because his comments had rendered the application invalid, or void ab initio. The Immigration Department issues passports in the city.

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The legal action, lodged in the High Court through Siu’s company, Sino Moral, on Tuesday, followed Tai’s remarks last month at a seminar in Taipei. There, the University of Hong Kong law scholar discussed how China’s various ethnic groups could exercise their right to self-determination and decide how they could link up following the end of “dictatorship” in the country.

“We could consider going independent, being part of a federal system or a confederation system similar to that of the European Union,” Tai, one of the leaders of the 2014 Occupy campaign, said.

His comments that Hong Kong could “consider becoming an independent state” also drew a strong public rebuke from the government and Beijing’s two departments in charge of the city’s affairs.

In the writ, Siu argued that Tai, “in promoting the independence of Taiwan, is in essence voluntarily denouncing his Chinese nationality and accordingly not entitled to the issuance of an HKSAR passport”.

He drew the court’s attention to the Passports Ordinance, which states that “the director shall not issue a passport to the applicant unless … he is a Chinese citizen”.

As such, Siu argued that the director should ask Tai to surrender his passport and should be banned from any future issue without further instructions from the court.

He is also seeking a declaration that Tai’s conduct amounted in law to a denunciation of Chinese nationality, and an injunction to forbid “further issue [of] any statement promoting independence of Hong Kong or Taiwan in Hong Kong”.

Hong Kong ‘cannot prosecute’ Benny Tai for independence talk

Siu, who also served as chairman of the Party for Civic Rights and Livelihood of the People of Hong Kong, said his company had every right to institute the proceedings as it had been carrying out and monitoring political activities in the city.

One such example was his company’s continued publication of a novel titled Zang Hua, which denounces Taiwan’s independence through the story of a Hong Kong couple separated by a war of independence between the mainland and the island.

The lawyer is known for his many election bids to the district council, Legislative Council and the National People’s Congress since 1998. None succeeded.

In the 2007 Hong Kong Island Legco by-election, Siu led his team in a performance of what he called the “Rice Bowl Dance” during a televised election forum, chanting “victory” between steps while they held bowls over their heads. Siu said he got the idea from the old Chinese saying: “Food is the first necessity of the people.”

Separately, pan-democrats announced they would stage a “For Freedom, For Hong Kong” rally on Saturday evening at Legco Square to oppose Beijing’s attack on Tai and attempts to restrict freedom of speech. Tai will attend with fellow Occupy leaders Chan Kin-man and Reverend Chu Yiu-ming and democratic lawmakers.

One of the organisers, Sammy Ip Chi-hin, convenor of the Civil Human Rights Front, said they wished to send a message that Beijing could not criminalise free speech.

“This is beyond Tai. We are standing up for the values of academic freedom and freedom of speech that Tai represents, which the central government and pro-establishment camp are trying to take away.”

Additional reporting by Alvin Lum