China Airs TV 'Confession' of Belizean Accused of Funding Hong Kong Protests
Henley Lee is currently serving an 11-year jail term for "financing criminal activities that harmed national security,' state media reported.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has aired a televised "confession" of a Belizean national after detaining him in connection with his support for the Hong Kong protest movement in November 2019.
Henley Lee was found guilty on April 24, 2020 of "financing criminal activities that harm national security," the overseas-based rights group Safeguard Defenders said.
He was paraded in a forced televised confession on state broadcaster CCTV on April 14, 2021, which said he was currently serving an 11-year jail term for the "offense."
"This makes Lee the fifth (known) person to appear on national TV confessing to national security crimes, some before trial, all of them on the same news show, Focus Report, on CCTV-13, in recent months," Safeguard Defenders said.
The other four, all citizens of democratic Taiwan, were accused of crimes against national security, with some also charged with 'instigating' protests in Hong Kong.
Lee appeared before the camera, in what former victims have said is a highly scripted, coercive, and staged production process, in prison uniform, shaven-headed and looking down as he spoke.
"All this happened at the height of China’s attempts to paint unrest in Hong Kong as being caused by foreign, especially UK- and US, incitement," Safeguard Defenders said in a statement on its website.
Lee's case also highlights the fact that China is now pursuing "suspects" anywhere in the world that it deems to have harmed its national security, the group said.
A dangerous precedent
Under changes to China's Criminal Law that took effect on March 1, "offering support" to someone deemed a threat to China's national security is now a crime worldwide, and for citizens of any nation, it said.
It said Lee stood accused of offering financial support to persons considered "anti-China" in the United States.
"This is a dangerous precedent that cannot be understated and reflects the brand new provisions in China's Criminal Law, echoing the extraterritorial aspects of Hong Kong's National Security Law," Safeguard Defenders said.
Lee "confession" came as more than a dozen victims of forced CCTV confessions called on broadcasters around the world not to air them, the group said.
Ousted opposition lawmaker Nathan Law, who has been granted political asylum in the U.K., and Alex Chow, a former student leader during the 2014 Umbrella movement, both said via social media that they had never heard of Lee, nor of any donation that he had made.
Law wrote on his Facebook page that the claim Lee had acted as a "middleman" for Hong Kong activists was a fantasy based on the way China works, citing Hongkongers' ability to lobby on their own behalf in the U.S.
"This logic is so CCP, imagining that we are a group of people with no contacts, networks, or capability," Law wrote.
Hong Kong current affairs commentator Johnny Lau said Lee's "confession" was another move in the CCP's ongoing propaganda campaign to paint the Hong Kong protests as instigated by foreign powers, rather than as the result of broad, popular support for the city's promised freedoms of speech, association, and political participation.
He said it was possible that suspects under the Hong Kong national security law could show up on CCTV making similar recordings in future.
"Would they cross that line and start sending Hongkongers to mainland China to face trial?" Lau said, referring to a nightmare scenario that launched the 2019 anti-extradition movement in the first place.
"Of course we don't want that to happen, and we don't know if it will, but I wouldn't rule it out based on what's happening right now," he said.
Reported by Gigi Lee and Lu Xi for RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.