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A mysterious new website is offering rewards of up to $1 million Hong Kong dollars ($127,500) for information leading to the arrest of masked individuals linked to major acts of violence or vandalism during Hong Kong protests.
The website — 803.hk, named for the date on which protesters were filmed throwing a Chinese flag into Hong Kong’s harbor — offers cash rewards for information about 30 of the most notable acts of violence or political dissent during nearly three months of protests in the city.
The biggest rewards of HK $1 million were offered for information on who was responsible for tearing down a Chinese flag and throwing it into the harbor, or for defacing the Chinese government’s official emblem on the China Liaison Office in central Hong Kong in July. Desecrating the national flag or emblem is illegal in Hong Kong and carries a potential punishment of up to three years in jail.
It’s not clear who's behind the website, although it appears to be linked to Leung Chun-ying, the unpopular pro-Beijing politician who served as Hong Kong’s leader until 2017. The website is registered under Leung’s name, and on Tuesday he urged people to share a link to the site on his official Facebook page.
Leung, who also offered a HK$1 million reward earlier this month after the flag was desecrated, did not respond to VICE News’ requests for comment.
The campaign was advertised on the front pages of two pro-Beijing newspapers in the city Tuesday, which read: “The violence and the illegal acts of a small minority of people have severely hurt Hong Kong since June.”
“We come from various walks of life and hope to restore calm in Hong Kong.”
The website says the funds for the rewards had been donated by members of the public, and assured that the identities of any informants would remain "absolutely confidential." Once tips were received, they would be passed to Hong Kong police through a lawyer, the site said.
While the vast majority of the incidents named on the site were carried out by pro-democracy protesters, rewards were also offered for information on a mob attacks carried out by suspected pro-Beijing triads in Yuen Long last month.
The campaign also offers rewards for information on the storming of the Legislative Council chambers last month, the detention of a mainland Chinese reporter by protesters occupying Hong Kong international airport, and an attack on a police vehicle.
More than 800 people have so far been arrested for involvement in the protests, the youngest just 12 years old. Protesters are demanding an amnesty for those facing charges.
There’s been a mixed reaction to the campaign. Hong Kong lawmaker Claudia Mo Man-ching, a leading figure in the pro-democracy camp, told the South China Morning Post the move was “despicable.”
“It is akin to what happened during the Cultural Revolution which encouraged neighbours to report each other,” she said.
But protesters spoken to by VICE News did not believe the campaign would have a significant chilling effect on the protesters’ actions. One protester, who did not want to be named for fear of retaliation, predicted that "it might trigger a bit of a witch hunt, but we doubt they will identify anyone.”
Cover: White smoke rises after police fired tear gas at anti-government protesters in Hong Kong's Kowloon area on Aug. 24, 2019. (Kyodo via AP Images) ==Kyodo