A jailed Hong Kong politician who advocated "separation" between the former British colony and mainland China has been transferred to a maximum security prison after receiving a Christmas card from a supporter deemed to have "sensitive" content, local media and politicians reported.
Edward Leung, who is serving a six-year jail term for "rioting" after taking part in the 2016 "fishball revolution" in Mong Kok, was transferred from Shek Pik Prison on Lantau Island to a category A facility, reports said.
Leung once headed the now-defunct political group Hong Kong Indigenous, which campaigned for Hong Kong to be allowed to maintain its separation from mainland China.
He is credited with coining the slogan "Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution in Our Time," during his 2016 Legislative Council election campaign, a cry which became the rallying cry of the anti-extradition and pro-democracy movement that rocked the city for several months beginning last June.
Widely regarded as the "spiritual leader" of the current protest movement, Leung had been the recipient of huge numbers of Christmas cards last year from supporters, and it is one of those that is being used to justify his transfer, according to the news website HK01.
"The inmate was transferred to the highest security level, Category A, after receiving these cards," lawmaker Cheng Chung Tai said in a post to his Facebook page. Such facilities are generally reserved for prisoners serving terms of more than 12 years.
A fellow activist close to Leung told RFA by text that he is currently in a good physical and mental state, but declined to comment further.
'The government is beginning to be afraid'
Leung was convicted of "assaulting a police officer" and "rioting" during the Mong Kok unrest, and subsequently appealed. More than 500 supporters showed up for the appeal.
A frontline protester who gave only a nickname A Ming said Leung remains the spiritual leader of the protest movement in Hong Kong.
"The fact that he has now been transferred to a maximum security jail just strengthens our beliefs," A Ming said. "His transfer to a top security prison shows that what we are doing is the right thing."
"The government is beginning to be afraid of what we are doing."
Former politics professor and pro-democracy activist Joseph Cheng said the move will make everyone doubt the rationale behind it.
"One would hope that he would be treated fairly and humanely as a leader of the democratic movement, regardless of whether they agree with his opinions or not," Cheng told RFA.
"This will now cause speculation as to whether this is discriminatory treatment."
"Everyone will worry about whether this is the start of [political] persecution," he said.
Concern in Beijing
The move comes after Luo Huining, a hardline figure and key ally of the Chinese president, took over as director of Beijing's Central Liaison Office in Hong Kong after months of mass protest shook the city.
A former director of the Correctional Services Department, Ng Kwong-ming, said the move is likely in response to concern over Leung's alleged pro-independence views, which are anathema to the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
The Correctional Services Department said it wouldn't respond to questions about individual prisoners. But it said officials consider the charges of which prisoners are convicted, their length of sentence, and the potential security risks posed by prisoners when deciding whether to transfer them.
Hong Kong Indigenous was founded to campaign for "separation" between Hong Kong and mainland China, but Beijing has put pressure on Hong Kong officials in recent years to ensure that no one advocating greater independence or autonomy for the city can take part in public life.
Plans by Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam to allow the extradition of alleged criminal suspects to face trial in mainland China sparked mass street protests starting in early June that were soon followed by widespread public anger at police use of force against peaceful demonstrators, and demands for fully democratic elections.
Lam has since formally withdrawn the hated amendments to the city's extradition laws, but has stopped short of meeting protesters' demands for an amnesty for arrestees, an independent public inquiry into police violence and abuse of power, an end to the description of protesters as "rioters," and fully democratic elections.
A January opinion poll by Reuters found that most of Hong Kong's residents supported the five demands of the protest movement, with more than one third of respondents saying they had attended a protest.
Only 30 percent said they were opposed, compared with 59 percent of those polled who supported the movement.
Reported by Gao Feng and Man Hoi-tsan for RFA's Cantonese and Mandarin Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.