Tuesday, 18 May 2021

Hong Kong national security hotline sees 1,000 tips on day one

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) – Hong Kong’s new hotline for residents to report violations of controversial national security legislation received 1,000 tips hours after launching, the South China Morning Post reported, citing a police spokesman.

The tip line was announced Thursday (Nov 5) by the Hong Kong Police Force’s National Security Department, a unit set up after the June enactment of the law criminalising subversion, secession, collusion with foreign powers and terrorism. The line was aimed at “facilitating members of the public to provide or report national security related information,” including photos, audio and video clips, the police said in a statement.

Residents will be able to send such information over email, texts or the Chinese social messaging platform WeChat, the police statement said.

The police force did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday morning about the Post’s report.

The popularity of the hotline could fuel more concerns about freedoms in the city under the national security law, which has been criticised by democracy advocates and foreign governments as an assault on Hong Kong’s future as a safe place for international business.

The law’s enactment dramatically worsened ties between the Asian financial hub and western democracies including the US, leading several countries to suspend extradition agreements with the former British colony.

Hong Kong officials and their backers in Beijing have argued that the law was necessary to restore stability and economic prosperity after months of sometimes-violent pro-democracy protests helped push the city into a recession, even before the coronavirus pandemic.

While many law enforcement agencies – including the US Department of Homeland Security and the London Metropolitan Police – direct citizens to terrorism tip lines, Hong Kong’s national security law also includes political crimes such as supporting independence or inciting hatred against the government.

More than half of the 28 people arrested so far by the police unit responsible for the law are facing allegations related to speech deemed secessionist or seditious, such as waving banners, chanting slogans or making online posts.

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The Hong Kong line is similar to one that exists in mainland China. The country’s Ministry of State Security launched a hotline and online platform in 2018 to receive reports from individuals about potential spying activities and behaviour that endangered national security. The ministry also promised to award people who provided useful information.

Hong Kong’s national security law was drafted in Beijing by central government officials and imposed on the semi-autonomous city over the summer, without any formal local debate.

Since then, Hong Kong’s protests have largely dissipated, some political groups have disbanded and a handful of people have been arrested under the new law. Hong Kong also later delayed by a full year a key Legislative Council election originally scheduled for September – after disqualifying a number of opposition candidates – citing the Covid-19 pandemic.

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