Hong Kong authorities launch a counter-terrorism hotline and consider offering financial rewards to citizens who provide useful information to the police.
The police of Hong Kong officially launches on June 8 the Counter-terrorism reporting hotline to encourage citizens providing clues about "crimes involving terrorism and violence." This new hotline is part of a promotional campaign: Spot and Report.
Police previously launched a similar hotline, the Anti-violence hotline, in 2019 in order to assist in investigation and prevention of crime after protests sparked against the Hong Kong government and a bill that allowed extradition to mainland China. Police say this hotline received "many reports from enthusiastic citizens".
In November 2020, a National Security Department Reporting Hotline was also launched to facilitate the public to report information related to national security. In May last year, people were also able to report suspicions of terrorism through an online form or by email.
With a number that is said to be easier to remember, the new hotline is an upgrade of the anti-violence one. It will be managed by the Inter-departmental Counter-Terrorism Unit (ICTU), a service created in 2018, with the objective to enhance sharing intelligence across departments. The national security hotline will complement the counter-terrorism hotline with the same objective but covering different laws, the ICTU superintendent Leung Wai-kei said.
Authorities justify the upgrade by a need to adapt to new threats because activities of "local extremists have turned underground and become more covert" since the controversial Hong Kong national security law came into effect in mid-2020.
On top of violent acts they hope people report suspected terrorism-related activities, and in particular extremist plots. It will only allow people to report information with SMS and WeChat for the moment, with the possibility to add further features in the future.
Mr Wai-kei said the online form and email reporting of terrorism received about 350 information since May; 35% of them needed a follow up. The anti-violence hotline received 340,000 reports.
The threat level of terrorism attacks in Hong Kong is currently set at moderate.
The new security law criminalizes separatism, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers, which can be sentenced up to life imprisonment.
With the new law, a person who "intimidates the public in order to pursue political agenda" may perform terrorist activities if, for instance, there is serious violence against a person, sabotage of means of transports or transport facilities, interruption of public services or "other dangerous activities which seriously jeopardize public health, safety or security."
In order to encourage people in reporting suspected terrorism, police consider offering rewards to those who provide reliable information. The amount of the rewards and its mechanism have not been officially communicated but would be granted after the prosecution ends.
A Good Citizen Award has already been in place in Hong Kong for years to encourage members of the public to report crime to the police. Granted every year with a ceremony, the Good Citizen Award also comes with 4,000 Hong Kong dollars (US$510).
Mr Wai-kei suggested rewards could go from 400,000 to 800,000 Hong Kong dollars (US$51,000-102,000) if a report avoids serious crimes such as injury or murder.
He also said that the public may consider if a person is dressed or behaves unusually to identify suspicious individuals, and showed confidence there would be no abuse of the reports because authorities have experience in identifying credible reports and that rewards would be given after the prosecution is complete.
July 1 will mark the 25th anniversary that the United Kingdom transferred its authority of Hong Kong to China.