Quarantining Hong Kong Protest Supporters at the Border

It’s pretty clear that WeChat is becoming an increasingly powerful weapon for social control. (Image:  pixabay /  CC0 1.0)
It’s pretty clear that WeChat is becoming an increasingly powerful weapon for social control. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Travelers from Hong Kong to China are reporting that everyone passing through the border is being checked thoroughly by the mainland police force. Phones of the visitors are inspected and anyone storing content about the Hong Kong protests on their mobile risks being questioned or even imprisoned.

The phone inspection

One woman trying to enter China was made to delete the photos on her phone before being given permission to cross the border. The officers apparently check two out of every three visitors.

“I was so afraid of them checking my phone, so I gave them my old phone… I thought I had deleted all protest photos, but they also checked for protest-related posters and news… I have deleted some protest photos on my iPhone, but I didn’t realize those were moved to the “recently deleted” folder. The officer also checked that. He found I had about 100 protest photos and asked me to delete them all,” she said to the BBC.

Last month, a 29-year-old designer made the mistake of trying to cross into China with several photos of the June 16th Hong Kong protest on his mobile. The police took him to a station across the border where he was photographed and questioned. He also had to provide a blood sample and fingerprints.

“They asked if I supported the protesters and kept saying that Hongkongers were bribed and manipulated by foreign forces,” he said to the South China Morning Post. The designer eventually spent 6 hours at the station and was only released at 1 a.m. He had to sign a “letter of assurance” and was asked not to participate in any of the pro-Hong Kong protests. The police also forced him to delete all images and videos on his phone.

The designer had to sign a ‘letter of assurance’ to be released. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Some Hongkongers who already know about the police check at the border maintain two phones — one to use in Hong Kong and the other to take with them when visiting China. Smart Hongkongers often put a pro-Beijing image, like the red Chinese flag, as the phone’s wallpaper in a bid to divert suspicion.

Asylum offer

Taking into account the worsening situation in Hong Kong, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen had offered asylum to a few Hongkongers last month. The country’s “Governing Relations With Hong Kong and Macau Act” requires the government to provide assistance to residents of the two places in case their liberties are threatened due to political reasons. Beijing sharply reacted to Tsai’s asylum offer, accusing her party of supporting Hong Kong “troublemakers.”  

Tsai Ing-wen is offering asylum to Hongkongers in Taiwan. (Image: David Reid via flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Tsai Ing-wen is offering asylum to Hongkongers in Taiwan. (Image: David Reid via flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

“By turning a blind eye to the facts and confusing right and wrong, the DPP [Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party] authority has not only helped cover up the criminalities of a small number of violent radicals in Hong Kong, encourage their acts of messing up Hong Kong, but also announced protection for them,” Ma Xiaoguang, a spokesman for the Chinese Cabinet’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said in a statement (Xinhua).

According to the National Immigration Agency of Taiwan, the number of applications from Hongkongers wishing to stay in Taiwan surged by more than 45 percent in the June-July period. According to current rules, people from Hong Kong can stay in Taiwan for up to one month if they have the necessary visa. 

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