This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Hong Kong’s national security police are planning a hotline that will encourage the city’s seven million residents to inform on alleged breaches of a draconian new law that criminalizes peaceful criticism of the authorities.
Hongkongers will be asked to contact the multiplatform hotline with anonymous details of anyone suspected of breaking the National Security Law for Hong Kong, imposed on the city by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) since July 1, local media quoted government sources as saying.
Police sources said they are hoping the hotline will have a “deterrent effect” on anyone considering breaking the law, which bans speech and actions considered to be pro-independence, seditious, terrorist, or “colluding with a foreign power.”
Requests for comment to the Hong Kong Police Force went unanswered at the time of writing on Thursday.
Hong Kong political commentator Johnny Lau, who has already been reported to police by CCP supporters for some of his comments, said the aim of the hotline is to sow widespread fear and division.
“I think the main purpose is to act as a deterrent, but also to sow mistrust,” Lau told RFA. “Some people may refrain from doing certain things out of concern for their personal safety.”
Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia said China’s feared state security police, who have also set up a headquarters in Hong Kong to implement the law, already have something similar set up in mainland China.
Atmosphere of fear
He agreed the hotline would create an atmosphere of fear, and give those in power more ammunition with which to attack opponents and critics of the CCP.
“All calls to the hotline are recorded, and they ask you to leave the tip-off information, which the state security police then follow up, via a secret investigation, searches and detention,” Hu said.
“If they decide they’re going after you, you may not even know about it,” he said. “When they carry out covert searches, everything looks the way it did, so you don’t even realize. They can also install [surveillance] equipment in your home.”
Hu said the same tactics were used during the political violence of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).
In Hong Kong, he said all participants in last year’s anti-extradition movement against diminishing freedom in the city were likely already a target.
“Anyone who took part in the anti-extradition movement, from the frontline fighters to the peaceful, rational protesters, are likely to be tracked and later prosecuted under the national security law,” Hu said.
“Any tip-off hotline will deal both with events that took place in the past, and what is happening now,” he said, adding that the authorities may also start using mainland China’s model of “stability maintenance,” a pre-emptive system of surveillance and restrictions targeting anyone logged on a nationwide database as being a potential political threat, including their families.
“It may involve the stability maintenance model, which will seriously damage social relationships,” Hu said.
“During the Cultural Revolution, everyone denounced everyone else, which meant that everyone was suspicious and on their guard against each other,” Hu said. “This makes it easy for the CCP to rule.”
‘Serious blow to freedom’
Democratic Party lawmaker James To said the hotline would be disastrous for the city.
“It will be a serious blow to freedom in Hong Kong and will undermine the trust between people… much of the reports will be related to individuals’ political opinions,” he said in comments broadcast by government broadcaster RTHK.
He said the hotline would “disintegrate society and seriously undermine trust between families, students and teachers, and among friends.”
People will be able to send videos, photos and information to the police through WeChat or Korea’s LINE social media app, RTHK reported.
According to the South China Morning Post, the idea of a national security hotline has been under discussion since the National Security Law came into effect on July 1, and has little to do with recent events, including recent attempts by activists to flee the city.
It quoted a government source as saying that the authorities will want to hear about actions that could jeopardize national security, “even suspects’ details or their movement.”
“It will also create a deterrent effect for potential suspects, as there will be eyes and ears everywhere,” the source was quoted as saying.
A hotline set up by the Hong Kong police during last year’s protest movement accepts information via WeChat, LINE and text message, and received around 1.2 million tip-offs, some of which led to arrests, the paper reported.