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Silence, inaction enable Hong Kong police bounties, says activist

Wanted activist Frances Hui calls for multilateral cooperation to counter Beijing's overseas infiltration.

By Ching Fung and Ray Chung for RFA Cantonese, Chen Zifei for RFA Mandarin

December 18, 2023

Hong Kong democracy activist Frances Hui has called for an international effort to combat the threat of Beijing's "long-arm" law enforcement beyond its borders, saying recent bounties on her and other activists' heads are deliberately intended to create a "chilling effect" on activists everywhere.

Hui, who was among five overseas Hong Kong activists added to the city's growing wanted list last week, blamed a "failure of policy" and lack of international coordination for the threat posed by Chinese Communist Party activities far beyond China's borders.

"The Hong Kong government deliberately took a high-profile way to issue bounties for the arrest of overseas activists. Not for no reason," she told a recent online seminar for the Hudson Institute. "They wanted to create a chilling effect on the community at large, and to isolate us."

"The situation in Hong Kong has not gotten better ... the government has continued to unleash egregious acts in violating people's freedom and human rights," Hui said.

"The silence and inadequate action by the international community is what have enabled this," Hui said, citing a failure of U.S. policy and a "lack of multilateral cooperation among democracies."

Hui, the first Hong Kong activist to be granted political asylum in the United States, cited attacks on pro-democracy demonstrators at the APEC Summit in San Francisco last month as the latest example of threats faced by exiled activists.

Followed and intimidated

She recalled being targeted by death threats from fellow students, spied upon by Chinese agents and tailed to her dorm as a student in Boston, but said the university never took action against the students who had tried to intimidate her for holding rallies and demonstrations in sympathy with the 2019 protest movement.

"Throughout the time I was organizing these rallies, I was being tailed," Hui told the seminar. "One time I was tailed to my dorm, and I got death threats from schoolmates in the same college. To my knowledge, nobody has gotten into any trouble from that."

"The school administration didn't hold the student accountable," Hui said, blaming the heavy reliance on tuition fees from Chinese international students by universities in the U.S. and other democratic countries.

"It made it even more challenging for me as a Hong Konger, or my friends who were Uyghurs, Tibetans, Taiwanese, or Chinese mainlanders who hold different views," she said.

"Many of them are scared to speak up in their classrooms, even though they're in the U.S.."

Hui added: "[With] this kind of transnational repression, the chilling effects apply everywhere [beyond] the border of China."

"Everyone here is feeling [like they're] being watched, and they don't feel comfortable to speak up, whether it's in the U.S. or in China or in Hong Kong," she said.

"At that time, I wanted to use my voice to speak up for them, but then what I got is more harassment and intimidation, and I was being spied [on] by Chinese agents."

Eventually, the FBI indicted one of the agents who had been spying on her, but others who were also involved just got away with it, Hui said.

Recent arrests

Hui also cited the arrests last week of four people for subscribing to exiled former pro-democracy lawmakers Nathan Law and Ted Hui on online platforms, although police didn't reveal how they came by their subscription records.

"Between December 2020 and November 2023, the four arrested persons were suspected of providing pecuniary assistance via online crowdfunding platform to two wanted persons, who have engaged in secessionist activities and absconded overseas, and the amount involved ranged from some $10,000 to $120,000," the police said in a statement, adding that the four are being "detained for further enquiries."

"Police remind the public that it is an offense for any person to incite, assist in, abet or provide pecuniary or other financial assistance or property to another person, by any means whatsoever (including through online platform), for committing offenses endangering national security," the statement said.

"The national security police used to say publishing and reposting [content] could be a crime, but now they're saying that subscribing to content is a crime," he said.

"Can people commit a crime by liking a post?" he said.

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee defended plans to extend the city's national security legislation, which already criminalizes criticism of the Hong Kong and Chinese governments anywhere in the world, saying it is no different to any other city or jurisdiction.

"When people try to break into our houses, we only want to have good locks," Lee told reporters shortly after meeting with ruling Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping.

"So if ... you don’t break into my house, then everything will be fine," he said.

‘Fear campaign’

Meanwhile, Taiwan-based Photon Media, which reports more freely on Hong Kong from the democratic island than it would be able to back home under the national security law, said they are concerned by the development and its implications for their subscriptions.

"Our readers are in Hong Kong, and we are a small media organization that relies heavily on reader support and subscriptions," Photon founder and former Apple Daily reporter Shirley Leung told Radio Free Asia. "Without them, we would soon collapse."

"If they continue to expand ... their fear campaign, I think it will really have an impact on us," she said.

More recently, attacks on pro-democracy protesters by supporters of Beijing during the APEC Summit met with little concern by local police, creating more of a "chilling effect" for overseas voices from Hong Kong, Hui said.

"It's crazy to see that the local police were not putting their time and effort into protecting the people who were protesting there peacefully, and [instead] let the people who were violently attacking other protesters get away," she said.

"We need to increase protection to everyone across the country," she said, citing the involvement of Chinese student associations, which work with Chinese Embassy and consular officials, who she said pay people to turn out for pro-Beijing demonstrations.

"The truth is, the CCP's long arm is everywhere," Hui said.

Translated with additional reporting by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.



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