The Hong Kong Police Force is planning to launch a new hotline for gathering national security-related intelligence from members of the public, according to local media.
Media reports on Thursday quoted sources as saying the tip-off hotline – set up by the newly established police national security unit – could be rolled out as early as November, and will allow citizens to provide information about activities endangering national security anonymously. The hotline will be similar to the one launched last September, during the peak of the anti-extradition bill protests.
The plan to launch a national security hotline came four months after Beijing imposed the controversial security law in Hong Kong. The sweeping legislation outlaws secession, subversion, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts – broadly defined to include disruption to public transport and other infrastructure.
Police said last year that their “Anti-violence Hotline” aimed to assist the force in preventing and detecting crime. They originally launched ten hotline numbers on September 10 last year for the public to send “violence-related intelligence,” including photos, recordings and videos via the messaging platform WhatsApp.
“[The hotline will] assist police in stopping riots and restoring the peace and stability of the society of Hong Kong,” police wrote in a statement.
But the platform was removed by WhatsApp’s owner, Facebook, three days later. It said the system had deleted the numbers because the app was intended for private messaging and had an automated function to limit a large influx of messages.
The force later turned to message platforms SMS, LINE and WeChat to collect intelligence. It stated the hotline was not for general reporting and therefore officers could not answer calls through the platform.
The Hong Kong government has hailed the security law as delivering “instant results” in restoring social stability following a year of unrest. But critics, including foreign governments and politicians, described the legislation as “draconian.” It also prompted the US to impose sanctions on 11 top government officials of Hong Kong and China, for what Washington deemed as undermining the city’s autonomy and Hongkongers’ freedom of expression.
As of the end of September, more than 20 people have been arrested under the security law, according to police chief Chris Tang in a Yau Tsim Mong District Council meeting on September 29.
Teen activist Tony Chung, an ex-convenor of the pro-independence group Studentlocalism, became the first political figure to be charged with secession under the Beijing-imposed legislation. A local court denied the 19-year-old of bail on Thursday. He will remain in custody until his next hearing in January next year.
Another high-profile arrest involved pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai, who was detained in August on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces. His two sons and some senior executives of Lai’s Next Digital were rounded up as well, while over 200 officers raided the Apple Daily newsroom to gather evidence.