Agents from China’s state security have detained three mainlanders over the past two years for their involvement in the 2019 Hong Kong protests, according to Chinese state media.

Two of the individuals reportedly studied in Hong Kong universities, while the third was a student intern at a western media outlet in Beijing, the Global Times and Legal Daily both reported. So far, HKFP has been unable to independently verify the reports, nor determine if any of the trio were picked up outside the mainland. The gender of the three individuals is also unknown.

A photo of HKU’s Lennon Wall taken on September 28, 2020. File Photo: Studio Incendo.

The cases were revealed on Thursday, a day after the ‘confessions’ of a mainland businessman accused of financing the protests were broadcast on CCTV. The reports said this brought to four the number of national security cases related to the city’s protests so far unveiled by state security authorities for the occasion of National Security Education Day.

Social media posts

The first individual, a 26-year-old surnamed “Yang” had graduated from a journalism and communications college in Jiangsu, before travelling to Hong Kong to pursue a master’s degree in cinema in 2017. In October 2018, Yang joined opposition groups, helped organise illegal marches and “opposition promotion,” and was entrusted by the group to be the administrator of a social media group, where he or she led discussions and forwarded videos and images, the two media oulets reported.

File Photo: GovHK.

As part of the group, Yang posted petitions calling for the boycott of state companies, discussed China’s territorial issues, and suggested using wifi hotspots and airdrop to spread “opposition theories,” the reports said. He or she also retweeted a large amount of content during the anti-China extradition bill protests in June 2019.

Yang was arrested by the state security apparatus in June 2020 in connection with a case of subverting the state and participating in “anti-China” activities, but it is unclear from the reports whether there was ever any charges laid or conviction secured in the case.

Through “education and guidance,” Yang confessed to all the crimes, the reports said, and “offered to reveal ugly behaviour by oppositional forces outside of the territory,” while promising not to reoffend,

File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

The second student, a 25-year-old surnamed “Chen,” began a bachelor’s degree at the University of Hong Kong in 2014 and pursued a master’s degree at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He posted “a large amount of opinion on social media that supported the ‘anti extradition’ movement, attacked viewpoints about the Central Government’s rule over Hong Kong, and even publicly said ‘liberate Hong Kong’,” the reports said.

Without indicating whether Chen was ever arrested, charged or convicted, the reports said Chen was investigated by state security authorities in May 2020 and confessed “honestly” and under officers’ “patient education and guidance,” showed a completely reversed attitude, wrote a 10,000-word confession and promised not to reoffend.

While the reports emphasised that the individuals were university students in Hong Kong during the period when they were “influenced by oppositional forces,” it is unclear whether they were students at the time they were detained.

HKFP has reached out to University of Hong Kong and Chinese University of Hong Kong for comment.

“In recent years, overseas anti-China opposition forces began an ideological ‘psychological operation’ against individuals in the territory, a minority of students who studied abroad were impressionable and easily incited due to a lack of maturity, and were entrapped to participate in opposition activities,” the Global Times report said.

File Photo: Kiran Ridley.

“These cases showed that anti-China opposition forces have increasingly focused on using mainland students in Hong Kong… to ‘brainwash’ them politically or win them over using material reward.”

Western media intern

The third student, surnamed Tian, 22, studied journalism at a high school in Hebei and registered a foreign social media account in 2016. After entering university,Tian began working as an intern reporter at the Beijing bureau of a well-known western media outlet. He was introduced to the job by a reporter at an opposition media outlet outside of the mainland.

During this period, the 22-year-old received funds and raised the profile of several sensitive cases, supplied over 3,000 copies of opposition promotional material overseas and had 500 articles published with a by-line. Tian created an “anti-China website” in 2018, and in April 2019 was invited to travel to an unnamed western country by a person from an “anti-China” media outlet. There the 22 year-old connected with over 20 opposition groups, and were consulted and received instructions from a dozen officials from that country to secretly collect “so-called ‘evidence’ to smear China and sent it overseas.”

Tian was arrested in June 2019 for endangering national security.

File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

An analyst interviewed by the Global Times for the story said it was a matter of individual freedom to choose to work in the western media, but “if they used the media as a cover to commit acts endangering national security, that is a crime,” the analyst said.

The report also cited another legal scholar as saying that the public’s understanding of national security needed to change: “The forms of national security are becoming more diverse, and goes beyond the traditional idea of ‘catching spies.'”

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Selina Cheng

Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.