Surveillance of HK Democracy Supporters Revealed

On Tuesday, police cleared the final protesters from Causeway Bay, the last encampment in street demonstrations that have been ongoing in Hong Kong since late September. Before the clearance, Chris Buckley of the New York Times interviewed protesters who had camped out in the smallest of the three protest sites. Kelvin Chan at AP reports on the clearance and the end of this phase of the movement:

“In the legislative council we will do our best to resist through an uncooperative campaign,” for example by voting down budget requests and the government’s electoral reform package.

[…] [Pro-democracy lawmaker Fernando Cheung] said the movement still accomplished things even if it did not win any concrete goals.

“The duration and scale of the occupation signifies the determination and the force, the power behind the people who ask for democracy in Hong Kong. And secondly, it’s the awakening of the young generation which has limitless power.”

Otto Ng, an 18-year-old student, had been camped out at the main Admiralty protest site and came to Causeway Bay to watch the last moments.

“It feels a bit depressed and hopeless, but at the same time this is just the beginning, it’s not the end…. We still haven’t got what we wanted….. It’s awakened the Hong Kong people,” he said.

As the street protests came to an end, media reports revealed that of and threats to protest participants and supporters have escalated since the protests began two months ago. In an investigative piece for Reuters, David Lague, Greg Torode, and James Pomfret report on Democratic Party lawmaker James To, who called police after he suspected he was being followed:

Retired senior Hong Kong police officers and managers at private security companies say mainland intelligence services have been recruiting former Hong Kong police to assist in political surveillance operations. Recruiters identify former officers with surveillance training and pro-Beijing sympathies. They say more than 20 of these retired officers have been assigned to surveillance teams working alongside mainland agents.

One of the Mercedes cars that To reported to police is registered to a local resident who says he is a Hong Kong public servant. The man told Reuters he played no role in the surveillance. The other car was displaying a licence plate that is not registered to any vehicle, according to records of the Hong Kong government’s Transport Department.

News of the mainland spying operation comes as many Hong Kong residents are already chafing at China’s tightening grip on their city. The fear: Beijing is eroding the wide-ranging personal freedoms and independent law enforcement enshrined in the one country, two systems formula under which they have been governed since British rule ended in 1997.

Pro-democracy lawmakers, academics and political activists worry that Hong Kong is becoming more like mainland Chinese cities, where the internal security services join forces with the police to crush dissent. [Source]

In the article, student protest leader Joshua Wong relates how he was followed during a recent vacation in Taiwan. In The Guardian, Suzanne Sataline reports on suspicion by many protest participants that their communications were being monitored by Chinese authorities:

“If you’re using a cellphone or landline in Hong Kong and you’re one of the protesters, you should absolutely expect that your phone calls are being listened to by the Chinese authorities,” said Dmitri Alperovitch, co-founder of CrowdStrike – a US-based cybersecurity company. “I would advise them to be paranoid.”

For the past two months, Hong Kong police have routinely trained cameras on demonstrators and crowds gathering on pavements near occupation sites.

“They want to find every single protester after all this is finished,” Angus Chan, a 23-year-old financial consultant who wore a camouflage-printed bandana over his nose and mouth, said. As he spoke he was staring at an officer aiming a camera in his direction in Mong Kok, near what had been a large protest camp. “This is why I’m wearing a mask.”

The city’s police force says it has filmed public events since 2006. An email from its public relations branch said: “It is reasonable and lawful for police to take evidence by video-filming those who are suspected to have violated the law.” [Source]

Read more about the Hong Kong protest movement, via CDT.