Chinese professor hit by online backlash over Hong Kong protest posts, Asia News

A Chinese professor has become the latest target of an online backlash on the mainland after his chat messages that appeared to support the Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters were leaked online.

Niu Jie, a law professor at Nanchang Hangkong University in eastern China, was targeted by angry Weibo users, some of whom published his personal details, on Wednesday for his messages, which appeared to have been written in a private WeChat group.

The university in Jiangxi province acknowledged in an official Weibo post on Wednesday that it had investigated Niu’s “inappropriate remarks” and pledged “serious punishment” for the professor.

“These so-called rioters are all kids, they haven’t killed a single person,” read one of his message lines.

Chat logs show that he posted photos of schoolchildren arrested by riot police, and implied that Monday’s incident of a middle-aged man in Ma On Shan being set on fire by protesters was “fake” when challenged by another group chat user.

Weibo users were particularly irked by his assertions that the man set on fire was purely acting, and many asked Niu how it would feel to personally experience such an anti-humanitarian act.

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“From the video one can clearly see the man’s skin has been badly damaged, how can that be fake? Wouldn’t that be painful? Was it you who paid for his performance?” said a Guangzhou based Weibo user.

The same user who challenged Niu later posted screenshots of the conversation, along with Niu’s faculty profile, including his email address and phone number, on Weibo to his more than 20,000 followers.

Doxxing – the act of sharing private information of an individual online to encourage mass harassment – has become increasingly used as a weapon on both sides of the border as Hong Kong anti-government protests enter their sixth month.

Niu is the latest in a long line of Chinese people who have been targeted online for appearing to support the Hong Kong anti-government protests.

According to a media professor at a mainland university who did not wish to be identified, the Hong Kong protests are regularly discussed by Chinese academics in private WeChat groups, but few academics would dare do the same in public forums such as Weibo or personal blogs due to the sensitivity of the issue.

“Usually in the WeChat groups, you can say whatever you want, even if it’s supportive of the protests. Many people also share news coverage from foreign media or Twitter and discuss the accuracy of these reports,” the academic said.

“Academics wouldn’t normally be scared if their comments were leaked from a private WeChat group. It is the norm for academics in China to say some things that are an alternative to the mainstream discourse. They want to say something different from the government, but they don’t fundamentally challenge things like ‘one country two systems’ [the system of governance used in Hong Kong].”

Niu did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

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Calls to the university’s Communist Party-affiliated discipline and inspection bureau, educational administration bureau and the law and communications school were unanswered.

The Hong Kong protests is a sensitive topic in mainland China, where authorities have detained activists and ordinary people who have voiced support for the protests online.

Public intellectuals including lawyer Chen Qiushi and feminist activist Sophia Huang Xueqin have also faced action from the authorities after visiting Hong Kong to observe the protests.

Huang, who shared photographs of the protests online is still in police detention on a charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”.

Meanwhile, Chen said he been harassed and silenced by mainland authorities and forced to delete the Weibo account in which he challenged the official narrative that the city’s protesters were all rioters and separatists.

Several other people have also been detained for sharing pro-democracy views regarding the Hong Kong protests online, according to Human Rights Watch.

On Weibo, pro-government and pro-police voices that condemn the protesters’ actions are heavily amplified.

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State media has embraced the hardline government rhetoric on the issue, such as branding the protesters “rioters”, and have repeatedly called for harsher measures to crack down on the unrest.

After Hong Kong police and protesters fought pitched battles at the Chinese University of Hong Kong late into the night on Tuesday, state media such as the official Xinhua news agency and the nationalist tabloid Global Times published several commentaries denouncing the severity of the situation.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post

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