Authorities in mainland China have begun to detain Chinese netizens who express any online support for Hong Kong protests against a government extradition proposal, as continuing demonstrations in the city have stoked worldwide interest.
Many Hongkongers are worried that if the bill were to pass, Beijing could potentially pressure the city government to hand over citizens of any nationality to face trial in the Chinese regime’s courts under false pretenses. They also perceive the measure as further evidence of Beijing eroding Hong Kong’s autonomy since the territory reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
There have been two major anti-extradition-bill protests in Hong Kong—a march on June 9 that drew 1.03 million people and another on June 16 attended by 2 million who called for the bill’s full withdrawal after Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the city’s top official, announced that the bill would be indefinitely suspended.
In February, the Hong Kong government first proposed the legislation, which would allow the chief executive—the city’s top official—to sign off on extradition requests, including from mainland China, without approval from the legislature.
Since the mass protests began, Beijing has imposed an information lockdown to prevent its citizens from finding out about Hongkongers’ dissatisfactions.
In recent days, several Chinese rights activists have been visited by Chinese police after they commented on social media about the extradition bill, according to a June 24 report by Radio Free Asia (RFA). Some have been detained.
According to RFA, Wei Xiaobing, a rights activist who works in Huzhou City in the province of Zhejiang, was recently summoned by local police and detained for 15 days because he posted articles online in support of Hongkongers’ demands to withdraw the extradition bill.
Another activist, Hu Jiawei from Zhuzhou City in Hunan Province, was also taken to a local police station. According to RFA, Hu was warned not to publish more articles online or repost anything about the Hong Kong protests, or he would be at risk of being “strictly” dealt with.
When contacted by RFA on June 24, Hu said that he couldn’t talk at the moment because he was inside a police station.
Pei Li, a rights activist from Sichuan Province, said that local state security police had called to warn her not to repost any more articles about the Hong Kong protests. She wrote about the incident in a June 21 Twitter post.
Pei added that the officers threatened that she would be subjected to “forced disappearance.” That usually means the police forcibly taking someone out of his or her hometown for a certain period of time, and is among several common techniques used by officials to silence dissidents and critics of the Chinese Communist Party.
Later, in a separate Twitter post, Pei wrote: “I believe I would soon lose my freedom. Let’s go, Hong Kong.” Since then, Pei has stopped updating her Twitter account and couldn’t be reached by RFA.
A netizen with the surname Ou told RFA that Beijing’s efforts to silence netizens aren’t limited to certain areas in China. Rather, Ou said he has read online information about many netizens throughout China who have been summoned, warned, or detained by local police for reposting pictures, articles, or videos related to the Hong Kong protests.
An unidentified netizen shared with RFA that the words “Hong Kong” in Chinese have become sensitive terms censored by Beijing. On the popular messaging app WeChat, any mentions of “Hong Kong” have resulted in group chatrooms being suspended. Netizens also report not being able to send pictures and videos related to Hong Kong on various social media platforms.
Foreign media operating in China has also been subjected to Chinese censorship. According to a June 13 report by Taiwanese daily newspaper Liberty Times, Japanese national broadcaster NHK in China had its transmission signals unexpectedly cut off, while reporting on the standoff between protesters and police in Hong Kong on June 12.
Beijing-based political commentator Zhang Lifan, in a recent interview with Voice of America, explained why Beijing is preventing its citizens from learning about the protests.
He said the Beijing regime fears that the protests could have a domino effect, encouraging the Chinese people to demand more freedoms inside China.