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Hong Kong students fear arrest after ‘spying’ by Chinese peers in Sheffield masked protest

HK students ‘filmed without consent’


Hong Kong students fear arrest when they return home after Chinese students took "close up photographs" as they marched in Sheffield, amid escalating tensions between the two groups.

Protesters paraded through the city centre on Saturday afternoon, as part of a call to action against what they call "totalitarianism" in China.

But HK students claim Chinese students intimidated them by taking unauthorised pictures, videos and stalking them along the route.

"It makes us worried it could be put into the database of the Chinese government to spy on us, and we could get arrested when we go home," said Cecilia Cheong, a Hong Kong student at the Uni of Sheffield.

Relations are cool between the 7,000 HK and Chinese students in Sheffield following violent scuffles at a similar protest last month, as demonstrations in Hong Kong itself over mainland China interference spin into their sixth month.

In the latest action, the mostly student crowd of about 100 began rallying at the train station and handed out flags saying "Sheffield Stands with Hong Kong", making speeches to passers by.

The protesters spoke to locals as they marched with placards reading "Peace and love" and "Stop violence".

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But although the vibe was "great" and peaceful, Chinese students also turned up and took unsolicited photos, organisers said.

Sheffield Stands with Hong Kong, the group behind the protest, confirmed they saw unauthorised pictures being taken by Chinese students "all the way along when we were walking".

Vincent Mak, a student from Hong Kong at Sheffield Uni, added: "There were Chinese students taking photos of us and following us on the march."

Mak and other HK students fear that their Chinese peers are posting the pictures to WeChat social media threads, to be used for Communist China state surveillance and "watch lists".

The Tab Sheffield has seen a screenshot of social media messages where Chinese students make threats to the HK students marching on Saturday, and it is understood this has been reported to the Uni of Sheffield.

Security services MI5 and GCHQ last week warned universities against relying on Chinese student numbers, amid fears the country's Communist regime could be spying on campuses and stealing intellectual property.

As the protesters marched up Hallam Hill and through Hallam Uni's city campus, they unfurled a banner saying, "stand together, say no to tyranny" and chanted phrases in Cantonese such as "gwong fuk heung gong" meaning "liberate Hong Kong".

They later set up a stall in the Peace Gardens, where Anna Murphy, Labour councillor for Crookes and Crosspool, said in a speech: "I am standing side by side with you in the struggles of democracy and human rights."

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Earlier this month, a 200-strong rally in Sheffield city centre descended into violence when Chinese students held a counter-demonstration while Hong Kong students handed out leaflets.

A 19 year-old student from the Chinese camp was given a police caution for hurling a glass bottle at HK protesters, and the Uni of Sheffield International College suspended a student pending an investigation.

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There have also been escalating physical and online tensions at other universities including Birmingham, Aston, Exeter, Liverpool and York, where the SU ordered HK students to remove a banner in support of their homeland in September because Chinese students found it "offensive".

Pictures by Christine Emelone