Hong Kong’s resilient protest movement is “going dark” online even as demonstrations continue against proposed extradition laws they view as a fatal assault on the autonomy of their city.
The protesters believe they will be spied upon if they use unencrypted Internet services. Some fear China will subject Hong Kong to the same pervasive surveillance and political oppression deployed against the Uighur Muslims of Xinjiang province.
Protest leaders have indicated throughout the week they believe the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement was suppressed with electronic surveillance, teaching them an important lesson about the dangers of using common email services, public wi-fi networks, and easily tracked transit passes.
The Hong Kong Free Press on Friday quoted protesters who spoke of using masks to protect their identity from cameras, turning off location services on their phones, tightening up their Internet privacy settings, and deleting online posts that could draw attention to them.
“One month ago, things were still calm in Hong Kong. But in an instant, it has become this. Who knows if it would become like Xinjiang the day after tomorrow because things can change so quickly,” said an office worker who wore a mask to conceal his identity when he joined the protests.
“If that policy passed in Hong Kong, we are no longer safe in Hong Kong,” said a protester who stressed the importance of the relative political freedom enjoyed by residents, and their fears of becoming just another oppressed Chinese city:
The World Uyghur Congress noticed how the fears of Hong Kongers parallel the plight of Xinjiang province, highlighting another interview in which young Hong Kong students talk about the importance of protecting their freedoms:
— WorldUyghurCongress (@UyghurCongress) June 13, 2019
The government of Hong Kong sent members of its anti-terrorism task force to Xinjiang province in December to study how the mainland Chinese are dealing with extremism. Great pains were taken to reassure Hong Kongers their government was not planning to copy all of China’s heavy-handed methods in the province.
Protest leaders have announced plans for another mass rally on Sunday, followed by a citywide strike on Monday. The protesters are still fighting an uphill battle against Beijing’s determination to push the extradition law through, but the first cracks in political support for the bill appeared on Friday with the news that one of chief executive Carrie Lam’s top advisers, plus at least one pro-China lawmaker, now believe discussion the bill should be placed on indefinite hold.