Beijing has lambasted Hong Kong pro-democracy group Demosisto and its leaders as “black hands,” over plans for a referendum on staging a class boycott against the city’s impending national security legislation.

In a statement titled “Cut black hands, save the children” issued on Friday, the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) accused the group of using secondary students as “shells” and “tools,” in an attempt to hinder China’s parliament from promulgating laws to punish acts it deems a threat to national security in the city.

Joshua Wong. File photo: Demosisto.

“There are some people who extend the black hand towards schools, towards underage people and organise a so-called secondary student class boycott action,” the Beijing agency wrote.

The Hong Kong Secondary Students’ Action Platform – backed by Demosisto – is set hold a joint referendum on June 20 with a coalition of over 20 labour unions to decide whether to hold a general strike against Beijing’s resolution.

The student group expressed concern that the draft legislation – which criminalises secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference in Hong Kong – would infringe upon academic freedom and affect the local education system.

“Their intention is so vicious, their behaviour is so despicable! Demosisto, Joshua Wong and Isaac Cheng are adding a heavy stroke on their rap sheets,” the HKMAO said.

The office went on to say it was “heartbreaking” and “worrying” to see that more than 40 per cent of people arrested in connection to the city’s large-scale protests were students. It criticised schools as “seriously deviating” from the “correct direction” of One Country, Two Systems, citing the row over a public history exam question and anti-police comments made by teachers and principals.

“What made innocent students become full of hatred and so brutal and violent? What tempted them to take the dark path of breaking laws and committing crimes, destroying their home and resisting their country?” the statement read, adding that classrooms are no longer “calm and quiet.”

The HKMAO urged the local education authorities to “cut the black hand” and ensure statements that “incite” Hong Kong independence become “extinct” in schools. The city’s education is a “serious matter” to the country and must not be “tarnished,” it added.

‘Peaceful protest’

In response, Demosisto said the referendum was “the most peaceful way to protest,” slamming HKMAO’s statement as an attempt to spread “white terror.”

File photo: EU.

“Although the Office singles out Joshua Wong and Isaac Cheng, [its] goal is to attack Hong Kong’s education sector more broadly,” the group wrote on Twitter.

On Tuesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam expressed opposition to the referendum when answering questions raised by HKFP at the weekly media briefing. She said any strike action amid the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic would not be welcomed by Hongkongers.

“[The referendum] is not something within Hong Kong’s political system or structure,” Lam claimed.

Charged over LegCo behaviour

On Friday, Cheng and two other Demosisto members Ng Ka-yi and Ho Sau-yee were found guilty of “failing to behave in an orderly manner within the precincts of the Chamber of the Legislative Council.”

Isaac Cheng. File photo: Demosisto, via Facebook.

Local media reported that the trio wore masks and held signs as they rushed towards then-Constitutional and Mainland Affairs minister Patrick Nip after speaking at a public hearing of the national anthem bill last March.

Ho faced a separate count of common assault but was found not guilty. The three were penalised with a fine of HK$1,000.

According to local media, Judge Stanley Ho of the Eastern Magistrates’ Courts said the actions of the trio had disrupted the LegCo meeting. He said he understood the three did not commit the offence out of “personal reasons,” but when they “crossed a line” they would need to face criminal liabilities. He added that, if the case was serious, Cheng, Ng and Ho could have faced imprisonment.

“Maybe you think this is for protest and it does not matter. But if you are jailed for a long time, who will do things for Hong Kong?” Ho said in his ruling.

Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.