Hong Kong taxi drivers have been urged by the counter-terrorism unit of the police to report any suspicious persons, objects or activities they may encounter while driving around the city.
In a statement on Tuesday, police called the taxi sector – with over 18,000 taxis and around 46,000 active taxi drivers – a “gatekeeper of the safety of the community.” As taxi drivers came across a wide range of people every day, they had a higher chance of coming into contact with individuals engaged in terrorism activities, police said.
The Inter-departmental Counter Terrorism Unit (ICTU) had reached out to more than 40 major taxi associations and companies, instructing drivers how to identify suspicious individuals and report them in a timely manner.
Several “zealous” taxi drivers had already reported incidents to the police that led to the arrests of the alleged offenders, police added.
In June, two taxi drivers called the police immediately after seeing two groups of people holding weapons in Tuen Mun and Sheung Shui, preventing two criminal gang fights from occurring, according to the statement.
Additionally, in March, a driver who overheard some passengers plotting a violent attack was awarded the first Counter-terrorism Reward for being an informant in a bomb hoax case, police said.
“The above cases indicate that reports from drivers are absolutely crucial to crime and terrorism prevention,” the statement read.
Posters about counter terrorism will be displayed at petrol stations and tunnels, and appeals to taxi drivers will be made through radio broadcasts, according to the statement.
According to the same statement, the city’s counter-terrorism hotline had received over 20,000 reports from more than 5,000 informants as of mid-July since it was set up last June. Rewards will be given to those who provide intelligence that leads to prosecutions.
The police said last year that the hotline was an “upgrade” of an existing anti-violence hotline, which was set up in 2019 after protests erupted against an axed extradition bill.
In June 2020, Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – bypassing the local legislature – following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure. The move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China. However, the authorities say it has restored stability and peace to the city.