An activist who purchased the domain name carrielam.hk has said he has received a call from the anti-graft agency. The agency asked for his assistance in an investigation over alleged election advertisements and expenses – a move he criticised as being detrimental to freedom of speech.
Michael Mo Kwan-tai registered the domain on December 15 last year, according to the Hong Kong Internet Registration Corporation. Then-chief secretary Carrie Lam only resigned in January this year to run for chief executive. Her official campaign website was carrielam2017.hk, which was registered on January 6, whilst carrielam.hk hosted satirical material.
Mo, a board member of a newly formed policy advocacy group Lab in Hong Kong, told HKFP that he received a call from the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) on Wednesday asking him to go to its headquarters to assist in an investigation.
It is common for the ICAC to ask members of the public to assist in investigations, though they are not arrested or put under investigation.
Mo said the agency requested his assistance concerning an investigation about carrielam.hk and four pictures that had been published on the site. The items may have incurred election expenses, Mo was told.
Under the Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance, it is an offence to publish election advertisements and incur expenses if a person is neither a candidate nor a candidate’s election expense agent. The person is liable, upon conviction, to a fine of up to HK$200,000 and imprisonment for up to three years.
Currently, the website shows a clipping of a report from the April 11, 2014 edition of the Headline Daily newspaper. The report quotes then-chief secretary Carrie Lam saying that she would become a housewife in 2017, when asked about an election run. The website also adds a line: “It isn’t so good to be a memory freak.”
Previously, the website showed three other pictures, one at a time, including a toilet paper roll, a HK$500 bill, and an app called We-Connect – her election slogan – all apparently making fun of Lam’s election gaffes. But the website did not say whether it supported or opposed any chief executive candidate.
Mo said that the International Bill of Human Rights and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance both protect Hong Kong people’s freedom of expression.
“The ICAC has been been criticised since Leung Chun-ying became chief executive [in 2012],” he wrote. “I hope this incident is not another political investigation, which connects the ICAC to the suppression of freedom of expression, or even white terror.”
Mo added that there are many people who share the same name as the website’s domain name: Carrie Lam.
Barrister Jeffrey Tam Chun-kit of the Progressive Lawyers Group told HKFP that, although the website’s content may have made fun of Lam, it did not necessarily constitute an election advertisement for any chief executive candidate, thus it would not necessarily incur any election expenses.
A spokesperson for the ICAC told HKFP: “According to its policy, the ICAC, in general, will not comment on individual cases.”
“The ICAC enforces the Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance. Should there be any pursuable allegation in breach of the ordinance, the ICAC will follow up on it in accordance with established procedures and the law.”
Article originally appeared in Hong Kong Free Press on 13 July 2017