To stop China monitoring their intended actions on traditional SMS texting, email and China's favourite app WeChat, the prodemocracy demonstrators are using a peer-to-peer mesh broadcasting network that does not use the internet

By Ian Horswill

Posted on September 3, 2019

The might of China is unable to stop Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters from communicating as 10,000 pupils from 200 secondary schools failed to turn up to the first day of the school year.

As the clashes between demonstrators and police in the former British colony have grown increasingly violent after 13 weeks of unrest, protesters are still able to bring the extremely significant global financial centre to a standstill.

China has the power to block the internet and news about the pro-democracy protests has been filtered out of social media. To stop China monitoring their intended actions on traditional SMS texting, email and China’s favourite app WeChat, the prodemocracy demonstrators are using a peer-to-peer mesh broadcasting network that doesn’t use the internet, Forbes reported.

Hong Kong protesters are using San Fransisco startup Bridgefy’s Bluetooth-based messaging app. The protesters can communicate with each other — and the public — using no persistent managed network. Downloads are up almost 4,000% over the past 60 days, estimates app metrics company Apptopia.

The app can connect people via standard Bluetooth across an entire city, thanks to the mesh network. Chatting is speediest with people who are within a hundred metres (330 feet), but you can also chat with people who are farther away with your messages “hopping” via other Bridgefy users’ phones until they find the intended target. You can also broadcast to anyone within range, even if they are not a contact.

The protesters want Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to formally withdraw the now-abandoned extradition bill that first sparked the current crisis; set up a commission of inquiry to investigate police conduct in tackling the protests; grant amnesty to those who have been arrested; stop characterising the protests as riots, and restart the city’s stalled political reform process.

Thousands of secondary school students gathered at Edinburgh Place, in the city’s central district, in defiance of orders not to strike, as police announced that 1,117 people had been arrested since the anti-government protests erupted in June.

“I am willing to take any disciplinary consequences,” one student from a college in the district of Sham Shui Po told the South China Morning Post.

“Hong Kong is our home … we are the future of the city and have to take up responsibility to save it,” another student, named as Wong, 17, told AFP.

Many of the students were wearing eye-patches to show their solidarity with an activist who was injured in the eye during clashes with the police.

University students also came out in huge numbers, with thousands gathered outside the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK).

“I come here just to tell others that even after summer holidays end, we are not back to our normal life. We should continue to fight for Hong Kong,” one 19-year-old student told news agency AFP.

Hong Kong’s second most senior official, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, left open the possibility of Lam invoking sweeping emergency powers to allow her to “make any regulations whatsoever” that she might “consider desirable in the public interest”.

“We are studying which laws could render help to the work of police and assist with their operation …. We keep an open attitude about it,” he told the South China Morning Post.

“There are certain factors for our consideration. The use of laws must be lawful, rational and reasonable. It must be made in the best interests of Hong Kong in accordance with its actual situation.”

Lam, speaking to business leaders last week in a private meeting that has been leaked, said that she would quit if she could, having caused “unforgivable havoc” by seeking to introduce the controversial extradition law.

“For a chief executive to have caused this huge havoc to Hong Kong is unforgivable,” she said. “If I have a choice, the first thing is to quit – having made a deep apology – is to step down. So I make a plea to you for your forgiveness.”

“This (the extradition law) is not something instructed, coerced by the central government.”

She admitted she was powerless to help the protesters.

“The political room for the chief executive who, unfortunately, has to serve two masters by constitution, that is the central people’s government and the people of Hong Kong, that political room for manoeuvring is very, very, very limited,” she said

In the 24-minute recording, Lam said that arrests would continue but claimed it was unlikely that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army would intervene.