May 19, 2017
The Law Society of Upper Canada expresses grave concern about the charges against law professor Benny Tai in China (Hong Kong).
Benny Tai is an associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong and was one of the panelists at the Law Society’s Asian and South Asian Heritage Month event in 2016. He received widespread media attention in January 2013 when he proposed the Occupy Central with Love and Peace campaign (“Occupy Central”). Occupy Central (also known as the “Umbrella Movement”) was a civil disobedience movement that took place in Hong Kong between September 28, 2014 and December 15, 2014. It called on protesters to block roads and paralyze the city’s financial district if the Chinese and local governments failed to implement universal suffrage for the 2017 Chief Executive and the 2020 Legislative Council elections in Hong Kong in accordance with “international standards”.
It has come to the Law Society’s attention that on March 27, 2017, Professor Tai and eight other activists were formally charged for their leadership roles in the Occupy Central protests. Professor Tai is facing the common law charges of “inciting others to create a public nuisance”, “inciting others to incite more people to create a public nuisance”, and “conspiring to create a public nuisance”. Each of these charges carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison.
Professor Tai and others believe that political considerations may have played a role in the sudden decision to prosecute the leaders of Occupy Central, especially in light of the fact that the charges were brought just one day after the date of the Chief Executive election. Meanwhile, international watchdogs, such as Amnesty International and Freedom House, have condemned the prosecutions.
The Law Society is deeply concerned about Professor Tai’s situation and urges the Government of China to comply with China’s obligations under international human rights laws, including the United Nations’ Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.