Hong Kong activists announced on Wednesday that protests would be suspended to observe the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
China’s state-run media accused the protesters of planning 9/11-style terrorist attacks themselves, complete with photos of the planes hitting the World Trade Center in 2001.
“In solidarity against terrorism, all forms of protest in Hong Kong will be suspended on Sept. 11, apart from potential singing and chanting,” protest organizers said in a statement.
The statement went on to denounce Beijing’s state-run China Daily for a Facebook post warning that “anti-government fanatics are planning massive terror attacks, including blowing up gas pipes, in Hong Kong on September 11.”
“The 9/11 terror plot also encourages indiscriminate attacks on non-native speakers of Cantonese and starting mountain fires. This leaked information was part of the strategy being schemed by radical protesters in their online chat rooms,” China Daily claimed.
The incendiary post was illustrated with a photo of al-Qaeda’s hijacked planes slamming into the World Trade Center on 9/11.
China Daily responded to widespread outrage over the post by publishing a screenshot that purportedly showed protesters using the encrypted messaging service Telegram to discuss “killing people if their demands are not met,” as the South China Morning Post characterized it.
The Chinese Communist paper refused to offer any proof for their specific claim of a 9/11 terrorist plot in Hong Kong or answer any other questions about their assertions. Facebook refused requests for comment on whether China Daily’s post violated its policies.
Hong Kongers responded to the China Daily smear by calling it disrespectful, “horribly wrong,” and “inflammatory propaganda.” Some wondered if the Chinese Communist Party might actually try to stage a terrorist attack with “undercover actors” and blame it on the protest movement.
“We don’t even need to do a fact check to know that this is fake news,” a young protester told Reuters. “The state media doesn’t care about its credibility. Whenever something they claimed to have heard on WhatsApp or friends’ friends, they will spread it right away.”
“When they try to frame the whole protest with those words, it alarms me. They are predicting rather than reporting,” another protester said, praising the decision to suspend activity on 9/11 as a “nice move.”
“We honor those who died in the attacks, and all those sacrificed in the fight against all forms of terrorism,” said a supporter responding to the statement that protests would be paused. Other supporters noted the movement has been very pro-American and eager to enlist U.S. assistance against mainland Chinese tyranny, so it would be unimaginably foolish to behave in an offensive manner on 9/11.
The protest movement does not have central leadership – an attribute that has helped it endure for months – so the 9/11 pause was essentially implemented by circulating the statement calling for one on social media.