Some young inmates have been instilled with hatred of the Hong Kong government during prison visits, the city’s security minister has alleged, as he warned of “soft resistance tactics” used to endanger national security.

Some prison visitors have “unyieldingly” used different means to continue to “corrupt” youngsters jailed over offences linked to the 2019 extradition bill protests, Secretary for Security Chris Tang claimed on Friday at a press conference following the Fight Crime Committee meeting.

Chris Tang
Secretary for Security Chris Tang. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The official referred to recent media reports and online comments which pointed to people who visited inmates they did not know personally. During some social visits – which are limited to 15 minutes per day for those on remand and 30 minutes twice a month for those convicted – “anti-government messages” and “negative ideologies” were spread, he said.

Some “dedicated prison visitors” had paid 395 visits to 59 prisoners since the beginning of the 2019 unrest, while some visited 47 inmates 211 times over the past year and a half, Tang said. He likened these visitors to “fire magicians” who hurled petrol bombs during the citywide demonstrations, and “prison van chasers,” which he said had picked up “rioters” and helped them escape.

“[The visitors] had no personal connections with those inmates, and the purpose of his or her visit is basically to instil the hatred against the government and to instil the negative feeling about their development, which is in contradictory to our rehabilitation aims of our correctional institution,” Tang said.

“This is a security threat, basically it is a threat to Hong Kong,” he added.

“Prison van chasers” generally refers to people who follow correctional vehicles arriving and leaving courthouses. Despite the vans’ tinted glass windows with bars on, so-called chasers often shout and wave at detained activists inside the vehicle. Some also turn on the torches of their phones if the van leaves the court at night.

Prison van chasing
People bidding goodbye to a prison van. File photo: Studio Incendo.

According to Tang, the prison visitors in question included those who had spent time behind bars over protest-related offences, but remained “obstinate” and “held a grudge” against society. The group also consisted of people who sought to advance their political interests by “poisoning” young people, the minister alleged.

Tang claimed that some people tried to make a profit by selling daily supplies for prisoners which could be handed in to inmates during a visit. The prices of some items were hiked from several hundred dollars to over HK$1,000, he said.

He warned jailed youngsters that visitors who told them they “did nothing wrong” and asked them not to follow the orders of corrections officers were trying to stop them from “starting a new life.” He also cautioned parents against being taken advantage of and buying daily supplies for inmates at an inflated price.

“There are still a lot of people trying to endanger national security by using these soft resistance tactics to corrupt the youth,” the former police commissioner said, adding that the authorities would enforce the law and take action when there was sufficient evidence.

prison snacks
Some snacks allowed in Hong Kong prisons for people on remand. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Tang’s remarks came days after both of the city’s state-backed newspapers, Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po, reported on prison visitors earlier this week.

On Monday, Ta Kung Pao cited sources as saying that some “remnants of the black riot” became prison visitors to “persuade” inmates to write to lodge complaints against correctional services officers.

“Some people, under the auspices of ‘prison visitors,’ have lodged complaints with absurd excuses such as ‘there was no air conditioning in prison’,” Ta Kung Pao reported.

“The incident showed that some individuals stirring up trouble in Hong Kong are still unyielding, and are attempting to use this to gain political high ground, to plot a new round of political resistance.”

Wen Wei Po, on the other hand, reported on Tuesday that “several legal and political figures” urged the government to “reform” the complaints mechanism to avoid abuse.

The state-run newspaper cited pro-Beijing figures including lawmakers Holden Chow and Lai Tung-kwok.

Lai, who was formerly the secretary for security, said that if inmates deliberately sparked disputes under the instructions of those who were anti-China and trying to stir trouble in Hong Kong, they would have to be punished under the Correctional Services Department’s guidelines.

Additional reporting: Candice Chau.

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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.