Hong Kong police have charged two men with criminal damage to property, after they were arrested in June for allegedly disrupting the city’s organ donation register following controversy over opening it up to mainland China.

The men, aged 19 and 47, were arrested with two others in June on suspicion of “access to a computer with criminal or dishonest intent.” They are accused of using personal information found online to cancel organ donation registrations by other people, according to a police statement after their arrest.

A booth for the registration of the Centralised Organ Donation Registry. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
A booth for the registration of the Centralised Organ Donation Registry. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Police told HKFP on Thursday they had charged the men with criminal damage to property after investigations and legal advice, since the ordinance covers the misuse of a computer.

According to the police statement in June, the men inputted other people’s identities, mixed random identification card numbers and names, and entered non-personal information such as swear words in an attempt to cause people to withdraw from the Centralised Organ Donation Register. They allegedly misappropriated identities including those of government officials, lawmakers, celebrities, and ordinary residents.

The first hearing of the case will be at Eastern Magistrates’ Courts on November 22.

The city’s security chief Chris Tang described disruption to the organ donation register as an example of “soft resistance” – a vague term for dissent that government officials use – in an interview with the South China Morning Post.

Organ donor withdrawal

The city’s opt-in organ donation registry has seen upheavals since the government made a controversial proposal to allow the transfer of organs across the border with mainland China.

Secretary for Health Lo Chung-mau. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
Secretary for Health Lo Chung-mau. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Following a heart transplant for a four-month-old Hong Kong girl with an organ donated and delivered across the border last December, the government has been promoting the integration of Hong Kong’s hospitals into the China Organ Transplant Response System. In early May, health minister Lo Chung-mau said authorities were discussing the possibility of allotting organs with no local match to mainland Chinese patients.

But Ming Pao reported a public backlash with some Hongkongers expressing reluctance online to donate organs to the mainland. Some said they withdrew from the centralised register as a result, while others urged people to cancel their registration as organ donors.

There has since been a spike in organ donation withdrawal applications. The Department of Health said in July that the registry saw more than 28,000 withdrawal applications between May 22 and 24, of which more than 75 per cent were invalid.

The city’s opt-in system for organ donation has more than 363,000 registrants at present. As of September, around 3,000 patients in Hong Kong were waiting for organ transplants under the Hospital Authority.

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Hans Tse is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press with an interest in local politics, academia, and media transformation. He was previously a social science researcher, with writing published in the Social Movement Studies and Social Transformation of Chinese Societies journals. He holds an M.Phil in communication from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Before joining HKFP, He also worked as a freelance reporter for Initium between 2019 and 2021, where he covered the height - and aftermath - of the 2019 protests, as well as the sweeping national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020.