Former Hong Kong Political Prisoners: Chinese Communists ‘Brainwashing’ Us

Two Hong Kong pro-democracy activists arrested for opposing communism told Voice of America in a report published Tuesday that they faced extreme indoctrination while in prison consisting of Chinese communist propaganda films meant to encourage them to abandon their identity as Hongkongers.

Voice of America compared the programming, which one of the former inmates called “brainwashing,” to the extensive indoctrination techniques used against Uyghurs and other members of non-Han Chinese ethnic groups in occupied East Turkistan. There, the Communist Party has built a network of over 1,000 concentration camps that, at their peak, housed up to 3 million people. Survivors of the camps say they were forced to worship communist dictator Xi Jinping, memorize and perform Communist Party songs, and loudly affirm their allegiance to China’s regime.

In East Turkistan, which the Communist Party refers to by its Han name “Xinjiang,” leaked documents indicate Xi Jinping is seeking to eradicate ethnic minorities and replace them with Han people. Hong Kong is already over 90 percent Han Chinese, however – the Communist Party’s goal there is to eradicate Western-inspired notions of human rights and individual freedom.

A police patrol passes a barber near the Id Kah Mosque in the old town of Kashgar, in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, after the morning prayer on Eid Al Fitr on June 26, 2017. (Johannes Eisele / AFP)

Beijing made that objective clear in its response to widespread protests in Hong Kong in 2019, which attracted as many as 2 million people peacefully marching against the Communist Party at once. The protesters were responding to reports that Hong Kong may allow China to extradite anyone present in the city into the repressive and secretive Chinese justice system. The protesters demanded an end to that proposition, freedom for political prisoners, the direct election of all lawmakers, an apology from the police for calling peaceful protesters “rioters,” and an investigation into police brutality against protesters. The protesters adopted the slogan “Five Demands – Not One Less” to emphasize what they wanted the government to do.

Police responded with repression, alongside plain-clothed thugs who accompanied police and brutally beat protesters without consequence. A combination of widespread violent arrests forced exile of dissident leaders, and China illegally imposing a “national security” law that outlawed vague actions like “subversion of state power” have largely quelled protest activity in the city as of 2022.

Riot police stand guard as a lawyer and newly elected district councilor arrive at the Polytechnic University to meet the left-over protesters in Hong Kong on November 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

After their arrests, two former protesters told Voice of America that Hong Kong police officials used propaganda videos to convince them to embrace their alleged Chinese identity.

“I think it’s brainwashing,” a former political prisoner identified by the pseudonym Siu Yu told Voice of America. “Every morning during breakfast, we would watch these shows about China’s advanced technology. It was on all the time, over and over.”

In addition to long video presentations praising the Communist Party, Siu said that police interrogations also featured indoctrination.

“They were so gossipy, they kept asking me what exactly I had done, whether I ever had weapons, what’s my view on social movement, and if I regret what I’ve done,” Siu said. “Sometimes I thought they were just chatting, but (the conversations) always ended with how good life is in (China).”

Another former political prisoner, “Wai Kwan,” said that they joined what they were told was a “career training program,” but was actually incessant pro-communist indoctrination featuring no discernable job skills.

“According to them, the two-hour sessions for adult offenders mainly focused on successful job interview techniques, but during the last 30 minutes, inmates were required to watch No Poverty Land, a 12-episode series made by TVB in 2021 that focuses on Beijing’s poverty alleviation efforts in remote areas of China,” Voice of America reported. “The video had nothing to do with career training, the former inmate said.”

The video indoctrination, the American outlet noted, appeared to be a public program defined as “rehabilitation” for peaceful protesters. The head of the Chinese-controlled Hong Kong government’s “correctional services” stated publicly this month that the agency would purge political prisoners of “radical thoughts and behaviors” through “rehabilitation programmes based on 3 focused rehabilitation directions, namely understanding Chinese history and national education, psychological reconstruction and re-establishment of values, life planning and rebuilding of family relationships.”

The “rehabilitation” programs appear to be part of an all-encompassing campaign to indoctrinate all Hongkongers into no longer acknowledging a separate Hong Kong entity from being a Chinese Communist Party supporter. The “national security” law went into effect in May 2020 despite Hong Kong policy not allowing the enforcement of laws passed in Beijing, resulting in minimum ten-year sentences for four “crimes,” including the previously mentioned “subversion” as well as “terrorism,” “sedition,” and “inciting foreign interference.” After its passing, Chinese-backed Hong Kong officials moved to implement intense pro-Beijing indoctrination in schools for students as young as kindergarteners.

In August of that year, education officials ordered pre-schools to “take gradual steps towards helping young children build their Chinese identity” and foster “filial piety” for China, according to Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK). Schools moved to ban the singing of any songs deemed “political” and prevent any recognition of the protests.

“They are fully pulling out the cultural revolution now,” an anonymous teacher told the Sydney Morning Herald in February 2021, responding to the implementation of “patriotic” Chinese Communist education in schools. The Herald noted that school curricula for children ages six to nine now included “the concept of law abidingness and the names of the offences under the national security law.”

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