Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee has likened the “phenomenon” behind the recent uptick in withdrawals from the city’s organ donation registry to the “black riots” in 2019, after four people were arrested over suspicious cancellations.

Chief Executive John Lee meeting the press on June 6, 2023
Chief Executive John Lee meeting the press on June 6, 2023. Photo: HKFP.

“The means… used are very similar to those used in the 2019 black riots and Hong Kong version of the colour revolution,” Lee said, referring to the protests and unrest sparked by a controversial extradition bill that year. The demonstrations escalated into sometimes violent displays of dissent against police behaviour, amid calls for democracy and anger over Beijing’s encroachment

“First of all, they used all sorts of excuses to sow discord, and then create a phenomenon that does not reflect the reality, and then push and disseminate a large amount of illusions online,” he said at his routine press conference on Tuesday.

Lee’s comments came after the police arrested four men on Monday over suspicious donation registrations and cancellations. The men, aged between 19 and 47, were apprehended over alleged “access to computer with dishonest intent.”

The city has seen a spike in organ donation withdrawal applications in recent months, after the government proposed integrating Hong Kong hospitals with the China Organ Transplant Response System, mainland China’s mechanism for allocating organs. Under the proposal organs in Hong Kong – which has an opt-in organ donation registry – could be donated to recipients across the border, and vice versa.

Organ Donation Centralised Organ Donation Register
Centralised Organ Donation Register. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Some Hongkongers have expressed their opposition to the proposal. Ming Pao reported last month that netizens said they would be reluctant to donate organs to the mainland, according to their social media posts.

Lee said on Tuesday that the repeated system registrations and withdrawals were “abnormal,” and that this was an “illusion” of cancellations created by “individual shameless people.”

The chief executive added that he believed those “black sheep” were only a minority, and that society should condemn their actions.

Police said the four who were arrested were suspected of using personal information found online to make organ donation registrations and cancellations. The identities used included government officials, lawmakers, celebrities, and ordinary residents.

Hong Kong Police
Hong Kong police emblem. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

They allegedly input other people’s identities, made up random identification card numbers and names, and entered non-personal information such as swear words when cancelling organ donation registrations.

The police said that two of the arrested men were brothers, and that there were no signs that the four were organised or told by others to engage in those acts.

Following the rise in the number of organ donation registrations and withdrawal applications, the authorities expanded the functions of the “iAM Smart” app – on which users can fill in government forms and complete other tasks – so Hongkongers can check their status on the opt-in organ donor registry.

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.