‘Truth exposed’? Not exactly. Pro-Beijing outlets claiming protesters paid to storm LegCo

A crowd of protesters waits outside of the Legislative Council on July 1 after demonstrators forced their way into the building. Photo by Stuart White.
A crowd of protesters waits outside of the Legislative Council on July 1 after demonstrators forced their way into the building. Photo by Stuart White.

As Beijing seeks to shape the narrative of Hong Kong’s recent anti-extradition protests — with state-backed publications branding them “mob violence,” and the work of “foreign forces” — a local pro-government newspaper has claimed that protesters were paid to storm the LegCo last week.

A few days after unruly protesters forced their way into Hong Kong’s legislature and defaced the parliamentary chamber, Ta Kung Pao, a pro-Beijing newspaper, published an article under the headline “Truth exposed! Recording shows Hong Kong teens were bought off to crash the LegCo.”

The article, first published on July 4, maintained that Hong Kong had sustained significant damage at the hands of “rioters” over the past month, and claimed that the aggression on display at the Legislative Council on July 1 was obviously “planned beforehand.”

Ta Kung Pao attributed its claims to a voice recording provided by an anonymous source, which claimed that those who threw bricks and eggs during the July 1 protest were paid HK$3,000 (about US$385), while those who weren’t at the front lines were paid HK$500. Some parties, it claimed, were offering “rioters” up to HK$5,000.

The story did not include the purported recording, or any other evidence for the claims.

The article also maintained that the crowd was strictly youths, which was demonstrably false, and claimed that protesters were bused to the site, with “unqualified protesters” kicked off of the bus.

“Old people are not welcome to join,” it added, going on to claim that protesters continued to organize more “violent movements” in a bid to secure more cash from the inciters “behind the scenes.”

Other pro-Beijing outlets have since seized on the article. A YouTube channel called “That’s Incredible! China” published a video called “5000 for assaulting the LegCo, the central government was furious!” The video also claimed, with no evidence, that well-coordinated “rioters” were paid for their actions. It has racked up almost 500,000 views in just four days.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHr6olU8Vwg

Wen Wei Po, Phoenix News, and a news page under the Sina Weibo umbrella have all regurgitated the rumors as well.

The claims of undue influence appear to ignore the hundreds of thousands of Hongkongers who have repeatedly taken to the streets in protest of the controversial extradition bill. Amid the government’s reluctance to acquiesce to protesters’ demands, that opposition has since morphed into a broader protest movement decrying the erosion of Hong Kong’s special freedoms under the “one country, two systems” framework.

Unsurprisingly, many have questioned the veracity of the allegations of paid protesters, calling on Ta Kung Pao to shore up its claims.

“Please disclose evidence of protesters getting paid and the identity of the middleman paying the protesters,” one commenter wrote on YouTube, questioning the objectivity and credibility of Ta Kung Pao.

“5000 can buy the heart and mind of a promising youngster?” asked another. “Wake up.”

Another noted that the hefty prison sentence those who stormed the LegCo could face.

“Haha, spending 10 years in prison just for a few thousand dollars? What a joke.”

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