Benny Tai Yiu-ting
|Nationality||Chinese (Hong Kong) (1997–)|
|Known for||Co-founder of Occupy Central with Love and Peace|
|Education||Diocesan Boys' School|
|Alma mater||University of Hong Kong (LLB, PCLL)|
London School of Economics (LLM)
|Institutions||University of Hong Kong (1990–2020)|
|Main interests||Law and religion, Constitutional law, Political law|
Benny Tai Yiu-ting, MH (Chinese: 戴耀廷; born 12 July 1964) is a Hong Kong legal scholar, political figure, and democracy activist. He was an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Hong Kong.
From 2013, Tai launched and is known for his initiation of the Occupy Central with Love and Peace, as he considered Hong Kong to lack "true universal suffrage" and should participate in an Occupy movement to win universal suffrage in the 2017 Hong Kong Chief Executive election. His suggestion ultimately resulted in the eruption of the Umbrella Movement the following year, as a result of which he was found guilty of "conspiracy to commit public nuisance" and "inciting others to commit public nuisance" and sentenced to six months in prison. Citing this conviction, in July 2020, the University of Hong Kong's governing council controversially fired Tai.
After the protests, Tai has repeated campaigned to pressure for greater electoral reforms in Hong Kong, launching "Operation ThunderGo" in the 2016 Legislative Council election, a "smart voter" mechanism aiming at getting the most pro-democracy candidates elected to the Legislative Council. He also initiated "Project Storm" for the pro-democrats to win the majority in the 2019 District Council election. In April 2019, Tai was found guilty of conspiracy to cause public nuisance and inciting others to cause public nuisance. He was sentenced to 16 months in prison, but was released on bail on 15 August. On 6 January 2021, Tai was accused of violating the Hong Kong national security law and arrested along with 54 other pro-democracy campaigners, activists, social workers, and former legislators.
Tai was educated at the Diocesan Boys' School and then graduated from the University of Hong Kong with a law degree and a Postgraduate Certificate in Laws, followed by a Master of Laws from the London School of Economics. HIs classmates included Rimsky Yuen and Kevin Lau
He joined the Faculty of Law of the University of Hong Kong in 1990, became an Assistant Professor in 1991 and an Associate Professor in 2001. He was also the Associate Dean of the law faculty from 2000 to 2008. He specialised in constitutional law, administrative law, law and governance, law and politics and law and religion.
Tai has been active in promoting civic education in the community, having served on the Hong Kong Basic Law Consultative Committee as a student representative from 1988 to 1990 and a member of the Committee on the Promotion of Civil Education and the Bilingual Laws Advisory Committee from 1995 to 2003. He was also a part-time member of the Hong Kong government's Central Policy Unit in 2007.
In July 2020, Tai was fired by the University of Hong Kong, his long-time employer, citing the criminal conviction he incurred for his role in the 2014 pro-democracy protests, known as Occupy Central. The university's governing council controversially overturned (by 18 votes to 2) a previous ruling by its senate, which recommended against dismissal. His salary and benefits were immediately suspended. Tai claimed that the decision to fire him was "made not by the University of Hong Kong but by an authority beyond the University through its agents."
Occupy Central with Love and Peace
On 16 January 2013, Tai wrote an article entitled "Civil Disobedience's Deadliest Weapon" on Hong Kong Economic Journal which sparked public debate. In the article, Tai postulated a non-violent civil disobedience seven-step progression to pressure the Hong Kong government to implement genuine full democracy: 10,000 participants signing a declaration (taking a vow and pledge of willingness to occupy the streets), live TV broadcast of discussions, electronic voting on methods for universal suffrage, a referendum on the preferred formula, resignation of a "super-seat" Legislative Council member to be filled in a by-election to be seen as a referendum on the plan, civil disobedience, and, finally, Occupy Central in July 2014 if the plan was rejected by the Beijing government.
He and sociology scholar Dr. Chan Kin-man and pro-democracy priest Reverend Chu Yiu-ming founded the Occupy Central with Love and Peace (OCLP) on 27 March 2013. The plan was supported by the pan-democracy camp and rounds of deliberations were held among the Occupy participants from 2013 to 2014 before an referendum on the electoral reform proposal in June 2014. The plan was strongly condemned by the Beijing authorities. Tai also received death threats.
In response to the decision on constitutional reform proposal of the National People's Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) which set the restrictive framework on the electoral method of the 2017 Chief Executive election, Tai announced the official start of the Occupy Central with Love and Peace civil disobedience campaign on 28 September 2014 after the student activists' storming of the forecourt of the government headquarters led by Joshua Wong on the last day of the class boycott campaign.
As the occupation ended its first month, Benny Tai and Chan Kin-man resumed their teaching duties at their respective universities and OCLP handed over the command of its medic, marshal and supplies teams to the student groups, the Hong Kong Federation of Students and Scholarism. On 3 December 2014, the Occupy Central trio, along with 62 others key figures turned themselves in to the police, admitting taking part in an unauthorised assembly as originally planned. They did so to fulfil their promise to bear legal responsibility and uphold the rule of law, as well as to affirm their principles of love and peace.
In March 2017, he and eight other Occupy leaders were arrested on the rare charges of conspiracy to cause public nuisance, inciting others to cause public nuisance, and inciting people to incite others to cause public nuisance. University of Hong Kong principal law lecturer Eric Cheung Tat-ming and criminal defence lawyer Jonathan Midgley described the charges as "not at all common".
In early 2016, Tai mapped out an "Operation ThunderGo" for pan-democrats to grab half of the seats in the Legislative Council election to increase political leverage in future political reform in the response to the increasing fragmentation of the pan-democracy camp in the post-Occupy era. He suggests the anti-establishment forces to field no more than 23 lists if their goal was to win 23 seats in the geographical constituencies. For the functional constituencies, Tai suggested that besides retaining the current six trade-based functional constituencies and three territory-wide directly elected District Council (Second) super seats, the camp needs to target three additional seats in Medical, Engineering and Architectural, Surveying, Planning and Landscape. The plan met with reservations from the very diverse interests within pro-democracy political parties, who could not agree on a united front. Tai's plan hit its setback when the Neo Democrats decided not to support the proposed coordinating mechanism for the District Council (Second) super seats in May.
Tai also worked on a "smart voters" system involving 25,000 voters who would indicate their preferences on an interactive poll and would be informed of the popularity of candidates according to polls the day before the official vote and which would be updated through exit polling two and a half hours before polls closed. Such "smart voters" would delay voting until 8 pm and then be signalled to support candidates whose numbers were weaker instead wasting votes on stronger candidates who were already through.
Tai's Operation ThunderGo was blamed as he released on the election day a list of recommended pro-democratic candidates based on pre-polling. It drew a large number of voters to vote for the candidates who were on the brink of losing as shown in the polls from other candidates, which resulted in the high votes received by fresh faces Eddie Chu, Lau Siu-lai and Nathan Law at other veteran democrats' expenses including Lee Cheuk-yan, Cyd Ho and Frederick Fung who failed to retain their seats.
Remarks on Hong Kong independence
In a seminar in Taipei organised by the Taiwan Youth Anti-Communist Corps in March 2018, Tai was recorded making an argument that following the end of "dictatorship" in China, the country's various ethnic groups could exercise their 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.
Tai was condemned by Pro-Beijing media in Hong Kong for several days in a row, followed by a rare statement of condemnation from the Hong Kong government. The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) and the Liaison Office also issued strongly worded comments condemning Tai, stating that 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." Hong Kong member of the National People's Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) Tam Yiu-chung urged Hong Kong to urgently implement Article 23 of the Basic Law to criminalise a series of acts including sedition, treason and subversion. He also asked if it was still appropriate for him to keep his job at HKU. All pro-Beijing legislators also issued a joint statement against the national constitution and the Basic Law. Several pro-Beijing protesters staged a protest outside the University of Hong Kong's law faculty building urging management to sack Tai.
Tai responded by saying his comments were "imaginations of the future", which in his opinion did not violate any criminal laws. He also added that he does not support independence. He warned of a "Cultural Revolution-style denouncement could have started against me. It will quickly spread to affect all Hong Kong people." He expressed his fears for his personal safety as he suspected that he was being followed by officers from "powerful" mainland agencies who may be posing as journalists, and that the police were unable to help him.
In April 2017, Tai proposed the "Project Storm" to win the majority of the District Council seats for the pro-democrats in the next election in 2019. He stated that by winning a majority of the some 400 District Council seats, pro-democrats could gain an additional 117 seats of the District Council subsectors on the 1,200-member Election Committee which elects the Chief Executive. Tai believed that by making it harder for Beijing to manipulate in the Chief Executive election, it would compel Beijing to restart the stalled political reform after its restrictive proposal was voted down in 2015.
Arrest for role in 2020 democratic primaries
On 6 January 2021, Tai was among 55 members of the pro-democratic camp who were arrested under the national security law, specifically its provision regarding subversion. The group stood accused of organising and participating in unofficial primary elections held by the camp in July 2020. Tai was released on bail on 7 January.
Benny Tai is married with one daughter and two sons. He is a Christian who considers himself a "part-time theologian", and said he could write a thesis on the topic of Christianity and the Occupy protests. He stated that his political views were inspired by his Christian faith, adding that the movement was guided by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.
- "Miscellaneous Lists in connection with the Civil Establishment". Hong Kong: HKSAR Government. July 2014. Archived from the original on 26 October 2018. Retrieved 17 August 2014.
- "Benny Tai: Hong Kong university fires professor who led protests". BBC News. 28 July 2020. Retrieved 5 September 2020.
- Chan, Holmes (9 April 2019). "BREAKING: Leading Hong Kong Umbrella Movement activists found guilty of public nuisance". Hong Kong Free Press. Retrieved 9 April 2019.
- "Hong Kong 'Umbrella' protesters sentenced to jail terms". 24 April 2019.
- "Court grants bail to Occupy leader Benny Tai". RTHK. Retrieved 15 August 2019.
- "Academic Benny Tai proves he is not all talk and no action". 19 May 2014.
- "Research Profile – Benny Tai Yiu Ting 戴耀廷". Faculty of Law, University of Hong Kong. Archived from the original on 7 January 2015. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
- "公民抗命的最大殺傷力武器". Hong Kong Economic Journal. Retrieved 27 March 2013.
- Tatlow, Didi Kirsten (4 April 2013). "'Occupy' Hong Kong, for Universal Suffrage". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 October 2017.
- Kaiman, Jonathan (25 June 2014). "Hong Kong's unofficial pro-democracy referendum irks Beijing". The Guardian.
- 戴耀廷收刀片信 佔中三子生命受威脅 為免家人擔心 沒有報警. Apple Daily (in Chinese). Hong Kong. 31 July 2014. Retrieved 18 August 2014.
- "Thousands at Hong Kong protest as Occupy Central is launched". BBC News. 27 September 2014. Retrieved 28 September 2014.
- "戴耀廷：現是雨傘運動非佔中". Ming Pao. 31 October 2014. Archived from the original on 6 November 2014.
- "陳健民戴耀廷將大學復教 事務隊「交棒」學生 陳：不是退場". Ming Pao. 28 October 2014. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
- "Police let Occupy organisers walk away without charge after they turn themselves in". South China Morning Post. 4 December 2014. Retrieved 6 December 2014.
- "Hong Kong Nationalism student editors: Not advocating independence, but it's an option". Harbour Times. 20 January 2015. Archived from the original on 6 March 2015. Retrieved 8 October 2017.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
- "Nine Occupy protesters facing rarely sought charges, Hong Kong legal experts say". South China Morning Post. 28 March 2017.
- Ng, Joyce (4 February 2016). "Thunderbolt plan: Benny Tai devises proposal for Hong Kong pan-democrats to win half of legislative seats in September poll". South China Morning Post.
- Mok, Danny (3 May 2016). "Will 'Thunderbolt Plan' fizzle? NeoDemocrats won't join proposed pan-dem primary aimed at securing Legco 'super seats'". South China Morning Post.
- Ng, Joyce; Cheung, Tony (4 September 2016). "'Strategic' voting scheme has Hong Kong's pan-democrats on the brink". South China Morning Post.
- "Hong Kong's 'King of Votes' in 2012 election scrapes home this time after tactical ploy almost misfires". South China Morning Post. 5 September 2016.
- "Hong Kong government 'shocked' by Occupy leader Benny Tai's independence comments at Taiwan seminar". South China Morning Post. 30 March 2018.
- "Protesters call on HKU to fire Benny Tai". South China Morning Post. 3 April 2018.
- "Attacks against me may be intended to pave way for a tougher nat. security law, says embattled law prof. Benny Tai". Hong Kong Free Press. 3 April 2018.
- "41 lawmakers echo Beijing's sharp rebuke of legal scholar Benny Tai's Hong Kong independence comments". South China Morning Post. 1 April 2018.
- "Benny Tai says he fears for his personal safety". RTHK. 3 April 2018.
- "Hong Kong Occupy co-founder Benny Tai unveils 'Project Storm' to win more district council seats for pan-democrats". South China Morning Post. 30 April 2017.
- "National security law: Hong Kong rounds up 53 pro-democracy activists". BBC News. 6 January 2021. Retrieved 13 February 2021.
- Chau, Candice (8 January 2021). "'Hong Kong has entered a bitter winter,' says primaries organiser as 52 democrats in mass arrest bailed out". Hong Kong Free Press. Retrieved 4 February 2021.
- "Hong Kong Protest Leaders Recall Spiritual Motivation". VOA. 28 October 2014.