Chinese Activist Who Supported Hong Kong Protests Faces 'Subversion' Charge

2021-01-15
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Chinese Activist Who Supported Hong Kong Protests Faces 'Subversion' Charge Rights activist Ou Biaofeng is shown, right, in an undated photo.
Photo: Chen Siming

Authorities in the central Chinese province of Hunan are investigating prominent rights activist Ou Biaofeng, who is currently under criminal detention for "subversion," for supporting the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement, RFA has learned.

A person familiar with the case told RFA on Friday that the Hunan police's line of enquiry had emerged after they summoned several fellow activists and questioned them about Ou's activities during a trip to Hong Kong as early as 2014.

"The state security police are claiming that he went to Hong Kong to 'study,' which likely refers to [alleged] training by hostile foreign forces," the person said, adding that they had also questioned people about whether Ou had received money from anyone while he was in the city.

"Going to collect money also points [in their minds] to collusion with hostile foreign forces," the person said. "There's not much a rights activist can do when they decide they are going to charge you with that kind of thing."

Ou Biaofeng was taken away from his home in Hunan's Zhuzhou city by officers of the Lusong district police department on Dec. 3, who held him under administrative detention for 15 days for "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble."

However, he wasn't released at the end of the 15 days, prompting concerns that the authorities were planning to pursue criminal charges.

The person familiar with the case said the charge of "subversion of state power" had been recently added by state security police, who now seem to be trying to find evidence to support it.

Police access accounts

Ou's account on the messaging app Telegram recently showed him online, suggesting that police, who confiscated his devices, have been accessing his account.

"He was shown as online, then went offline again after a few minutes," the person said. "I thought that was strange, because how could he get online if he doesn't have his phone?"

The person said the police had likely forced Ou to hand over the passcodes to his devices.

"He had two phones -- both iPhones, which can't be accessed without a password -- so I don't know what has transpired [in the detention center]," he said.

"The state security police typically like to copy all of the data on [suspects'] devices and then go through it with a fine-tooth comb."

Called for Hong Kong democracy

Ou's investigation came to light as the United States designated six PRC and Hong Kong officials for sanctions in connection with the arrest of more than 50 pro-democracy politicians and activists under the National Security Law.

"We condemn PRC actions that erode Hong Kong’s freedoms and democratic processes and will continue to use all tools at our disposable to hold those responsible to account," said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The department designated You Quan, vice chairman of the Central Leading Group on Hong Kong and Macau Affairs; Sun Wenqing AKA Sun Qingye, deputy director of the Office for Safeguarding National Security in Hong Kong; and Tam Yiu-Chung, a Hong Kong delegate to the National People’s Congress Standing Committee.

National Security Division of the Hong Kong Police Frederic Choi Chin-Pang, Kelvin Kong Hok Lai, and Andrew Kan Kai Yan were targeted for "coercing, arresting, detaining, or imprisoning individuals under the authority of, or in developing, adopting, or implementing, the NSL."

Prior to his detention, Ou had been a vocal supporter of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, starting from the 2014 Occupy Central campaign for universal suffrage, which later broadened into the Umbrella Movement, and continuing with his support for the 2019 anti-extradition movement, which broadened to include demands for full democracy and accountability for police violence against largely peaceful protesters.

In August 2020, after national security police raided the headquarters of the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper and its parent company Next Digital, Ou posted a photo of himself to social media holding a copy of the Apple Daily.

He also expressed his support for Next Digital's founder, pro-democracy media magnate Jimmy Lai, who is currently behind bars awaiting trial under a draconian national security law imposed on Hong Kong from July 1, 2019.

Ou also called on his friends to mail copies of the Apple Daily to Hunan to show support for the paper, as Hongkongers lined up to buy copies in solidarity following the raid.

Ou's wife Wei Huanhuan told RFA she was recently suspended from her teaching job, with her employer citing the coronavirus pandemic.

"They started out saying there had been a directive from higher up because of the coronavirus pandemic," Wei told RFA. "They said that's why the school was putting me on furlough."

"Then they said they knew I'd been pretty busy lately, and that that I'd continue to be busy," she said. "I thought, what is that supposed to mean?"

Wei, who has been the sole breadwinner for the household for some time, said she is now seeking legal advice.

"They know very well that what they're doing is illegal ... it's a bit crazy ... They've taken away my classes."
 
Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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