HONG KONG — As Hong Kong’s crackdown on dissent has intensified over the previous yr, the authorities have singled out myriad acts and gadgets that they are saying might threaten nationwide safety. Mass protests. Casual elections. Chanting slogans.
Add to that record: chocolate.
Town’s high safety official, Chris Tang, stated final week that some individuals in Hong Kong prisons had been accumulating sweets and hair clips — gadgets allowed in restricted numbers — to “construct energy” and “solicit followers,” with the potential aim of undermining the federal government.
“Many individuals might discover it unusual — they only have a number of extra hair clips, yet one more piece of chocolate, what’s the issue?” he advised reporters. Then he continued, “They make different individuals in jail really feel their affect, and from there really feel much more hate for the Hong Kong and central governments, and from there endanger nationwide safety.”
Mr. Tang didn’t specify whom he was accusing. His feedback prompted incredulity from a number of prisoners’ rights advocates, one among whom referred to as them “incomprehensible.” However his remarks got here amid a push by officers to chop off Hong Kong’s rising numbers of imprisoned pro-democracy activists from the groundswell of public help they’ve impressed.
Since Beijing imposed a wide-ranging nationwide safety legislation on the Chinese language territory in July 2020, greater than 120 individuals have been arrested, many denied bail earlier than trial. Hundreds extra have been arrested in connection to mass pro-democracy protests in 2019.
In response, a community of volunteers rapidly emerged to help detainees. One group, the 612 Humanitarian Reduction Fund, offered authorized providers and bail funds. One other, Wallfare, supplied jailed protesters pen buddies and provides.
However in August, the 612 fund introduced that it was disbanding, and this month, the police introduced that they had been investigating the group for potential nationwide safety violations. On Tuesday, Wallfare stated that it, too, was shutting down; a founder stated the group “actually simply couldn’t go on anymore.”
The stress on the jailed protesters and their supporters is emblematic of a broader, quickly spreading chill on Hong Kong’s civil society. The federal government has wielded the vaguely worded safety legislation to counsel that even expressions of sympathy for antigovernment figures could also be unlawful. Dozens of pro-democracy teams, together with church buildings and the metropolis’s largest academics’ union, have shut down in latest months.
The Hong Kong authorities have additionally fined a number of individuals for gathering close to prisoner transport vans to indicate help to detained activists as they’re shuttled from courthouses to prisons. The crowds have been accused of violating social distancing restrictions.
On Wednesday, a choose sentenced 12 individuals, together with a number of former lawmakers, for organizing or taking part in a banned vigil final yr for victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Sq. bloodbath. Some acquired suspended sentences, and others six to 10 months in jail.
The feedback by Mr. Tang, Hong Kong’s high safety official, got here after the town’s corrections division introduced this month that it had carried out a shock search at a girls’s jail. The search discovered that six girls had “prohibited articles,” officers stated. Native information media reported that one of many girls was Tiffany Yuen, a distinguished pro-democracy activist. Elements of the report had been later confirmed by Woo Ying-ming, the pinnacle of the corrections division, in an interview with The South China Morning Put up.
Jail officers had “acquired intelligence in latest days” that some individuals there had “tried to construct up forces and incited others to take part,” in accordance with a division information launch. It didn’t launch additional info.
Mr. Tang later talked about the hair clips and sweets. At an unrelated information convention, he stated these gadgets had been a part of the techniques some prisoners and their allies had been utilizing to undermine nationwide safety. Others, he stated, included the 612 Humanitarian Reduction Fund’s follow of sending letters to detained protesters, urging them to “proceed combating.” Nonetheless others, he added, used their identities — as clergy or native politicians, for instance — as excuses to go to prisoners after which assist them disseminate info.
His feedback have since been echoed by different officers.
In his interview with The South China Morning Put up, Mr. Woo stated guards had been given the duty of manufacturing each day reviews on sure “influential figures” inside the jail system. “That is how teams start, like terrorist teams recruiting followers,” Mr. Woo stated of the help among the detainees have, including that the affect was “subliminal.”
Shiu Ka-chun, a former opposition lawmaker and Wallfare’s founder, referred to as Mr. Tang’s feedback “incomprehensible,” saying that his group was performing “humanitarian work.” However in an indication of the pressures dealing with civil society, the feedback additionally rapidly impressed wariness. Mr. Shiu, in an interview with native information media, additionally stated the group would instantly focus on the best way to stop any misunderstandings with the authorities.
By Tuesday, Wallfare had introduced its disbanding.
After the announcement, some Hong Kong residents pledged to proceed the group’s work, albeit on a smaller scale.
Kenneth Cheung, a pro-democracy district councilor — a low-level elected official who oversees neighborhood work — stated he had visited detained protesters a number of occasions a month. He stated he would proceed to take action, including that after he posted about Wallfare’s closure on Fb, a number of constituents had reached out about donating crackers or beef jerky for him to take to jail.
However he acknowledged that he would more than likely be restricted to taking small presents to people, whereas Wallfare had been ready to make use of its platform to advocate higher circumstances for prisoner. He emphasised that he had no plans to begin a alternative group of any sort.
“In fact having a corporation and a platform is one of the best,” he stated. “However proper now, everyone knows, beneath the federal government’s stress, they haven’t any solution to maintain going.”
At a information convention about Wallfare’s choice, Mr. Shiu stated that he had not been personally contacted by authorities officers, however that “one thing had occurred” on Sunday that led the group to vote unanimously to close down.
“Below complete governance, each group in civil society will bear lots of completely different pressures,” Mr. Shiu stated, referring to the central authorities’s time period for its rule over Hong Kong. “Even current could also be a criminal offense. Perhaps standing right here immediately is a criminal offense.”
When requested how these detained would get help sooner or later, he paused, then choked up. “Tears are actually our most common language,” he stated.
Tiffany Might and Pleasure Dong contributed reporting.