Pro-democracy group Demosisto says that two of its members were detained and questioned in China by state security officers, one in March and another in August, before being released. The first detained member was contacted by officers afterwards who claimed they would visit them in Hong Kong.

Demosisto Chair Ivan Lam said that the two members – whose names and personal details were withheld for safety reasons – were not high-profile members and had never before been arrested. Neither member suffered physical violence during their encounters, and both have returned to Hong Kong.

Demosisto mainland detention
From left: Joshua Wong, Ivan Lam, Nathan Law. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

According to Lam, a member was visiting relatives in the mainland on March 26, but was taken away from the platform of Shenzhen’s high-speed rail station by around ten officers. The officers took them to a police station and demanded they sit on a chair with arm and foot restraints. When they repeatedly refused, they were allowed to sit on a normal chair behind a dock, Lam told reporters.

The member was questioned over why and when they joined Demosisto, what their role was, and was asked to write down the names of other members and paid staff. Lam said they were then asked to confirm whether three people were Demosisto members. The member was also asked if they had joined a protest on October 1 last year.

demosisto detention chair
Demosisto said that a member was asked by state security agents to sit in a chair similar to the one depicted. Photo: Demosisto handout.

According to Lam, officers asked the Demosisto member to verify and sign a set of meeting notes before taking their fingerprints. The member was also asked to sign a letter promising not to reveal the incident, or else the officers would “enforce the related regulation.”

The incident lasted over three hours, Lam said. The member received calls from officers when they returned to Hong Kong, but Lam did not reveal what was said. He added that no information about the group was leaked.

‘Lie detector’

Another Demosisto member was detained alongside three other people on August 17, according to Lam. Officers took them from the platform of the Guangzhou rail station to the Guangzhou Liuhua Hotel and placed them in separate rooms. The Demosisto member was told that someone had complained that they were trying to stir up trouble in the mainland.

Demosisto detention room
The room where the March questioning session allegedly took place. Photo: Demosisto handout.

Their phones were taken away as two legal documents relating to the national security law and counter-espionage law were presented, Lam said.

The member was attached to a machine which resembled a lie detector, and was then asked about the process by which they joined Scholarism – the now disbanded student group – and Demosisto. Lam told reporters that officers asked about the member’s role in the organisations and in the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy movement.

They were also questioned about Demosisto’s October 1 protest last year, and their protests against state visits by top official Zhang Dejiang and President Xi Jinping, whom the officers referred to as “Boss Xi.” The member was then asked to write down a list of Demosisto’s members, Lam said.

Officers told the member: “If you do not cooperate it will take very long.” Lam told reporters that the member was then asked whether they felt guilty about participating in the Occupy Movement, whether they supported Tibetan independence and whether they had brought books into China.

Demosisto detention room
The room where the August questioning session allegedly took place. Photo: Demosisto handout.

The officers said that self-determination – which Demosisto advocates – would result in a split within the country, which would constitute incitement of subversion of state power.

Before the member was released, they were asked to sign a letter of repentance, Lam said. Officers also suggested they become a paid informant, though the member declined.

The detention lasted for five hours until 1:30 am, and the member returned to Hong Kong the next day. The member has since withdrawn from the group.

‘Scare tactic’

Nathan Law, a Demosisto standing committee member, said the group only decided to reveal the two incidents after seeking legal advice, and seeking approval from both members.

“It is definitely a scare tactic,” Law said. “They want to send a message to Demosisto and also… civil society in Hong Kong by detaining these two members, to say that ‘you guys are not welcome in mainland China’.”

Demosisto mainland detention
From left: Joshua Wong, Ivan Lam, Nathan Law. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

While Law said he would ask members to “reassess” the risk of going to the mainland, he said it would be impossible for the group to ban such trips, especially for situations such as weddings and funerals in the mainland.

“Facing threats from ‘powerful departments’ in the mainland Chinese government, Demosisto will not back down,” Law said. “We have a duty and obligation to explain our situation to the public, and to urge the government to respond.”

Lam said the Hong Kong government should make a representation to the central government and the China Liaison Office in Hong Kong to protect the personal safety of Hong Kong residents in the mainland.

“We oppose any form of threats against Hong Kong people’s personal safety when a legal basis is lacking,” he said. “Nothing the members did within Hong Kong activism could form a legal basis for what the mainland officers did.”

Lam also demanded the Security Bureau clarify whether mainland security officers notified the bureau before they conducted their investigations and questioning in Hong Kong. He asked the bureau to also clarify whether they provided any assistance to mainland authorities.

‘Chilling attempt’

Amnesty International condemned the incidents on Monday, saying that it was a “chilling attempt” by mainland state security officials to silence Hong Kong activists.

“The Hong Kong government must be unequivocal in calling for an investigation into these serious allegations. Any failure to do so would lead to the further erosion of the rights to freedom of expression and association in Hong Kong,” said Joyce Chiang, Director of Amnesty International Hong Kong.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung did not answer questions related to Demosisto’s claims at an event on Monday evening.

Additional reporting: Holmes Chan.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.