Benedict Rogers was surprised when he received a letter at his London home addressed simply to “resident”. The letter was postmarked and stamped from Hong Kong. He opened it and was promptly greeted by a photograph of himself next to the words “watch him”. It had been sent to everyone on his street, telling them to keep an eye on Rogers.
Rogers was just one UK resident who has spoken to Index about receiving threats after doing work that the Chinese government would rather did not happen.
While no one is 100% sure who is behind the letters, or if they are connected to the Chinese government, the senders certainly have enough power to be able to access personal information, including home addresses. The recipients are always Hong Kong’s leading advocates of free expression.
Rogers, who founded human rights NGO and website Hong Kong Watch in 2017, described what it was like to receive the letter and to realise that people nearby had received it, too.
“It obviously is an uncomfortable feeling knowing that, basically, they know where I live. They’ve done the research and I don’t quite know what is going to happen next,” he said.
“The [neighbours] I spoke to were very, very sympathetic. And they were actually not neighbours who knew me personally, so I was initially concerned about what on earth they were going to make of this. But they saw immediately that it was something very bizarre… they’d never experienced anything quite like it before.
“And then [in June] my mother received a letter sent to her own address. It specifically said to my mother to get me to take down Hong Kong Watch.”
This was the first tranche of letters to arrive. A month later, more were sent to Rogers and his neighbours. They had all the hallmarks of coming from the same sender and included screenshots of Rogers at a recent Hong Kong Watch event.
“I am writing to give you a quick update about your neighbour, the Sanctimonious Benedict Rogers and his futile attempt to destabilise Hong Kong/China with his hatred of the Chinese people and our political system,” the letters read.
Rogers, who lived in Hong Kong between 1997 and 2002, has already encountered problems arising from his promotion of democracy there. In November last year, he was refused entry to the city on arrival at the airport and put on a flight out. The latest letters referenced this November incident, saying that being “barred from entering the Chinese territory” has not “deterred or humbled him to realise the consequences of interfering in the internal politics and nature” of another society.