Beijing wants to hire 100,000 volunteers as 'anti-terror informants'

Local governments are offering big rewards for tip-offs about security threats, but residents question if community should police itself

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 August, 2014, 5:27am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 August, 2014, 6:35pm

Beijing's plan to recruit up to 100,000 volunteers as "anti-terror informants" has been met with doubt by some members of the public.

They fear efforts to collect information could lead to dangerous confrontations with strangers, and point to concerns about living in a community where suspicion of one's neighbours is rife.

The chief of the municipal Public Security Bureau, Fu Zhenghua, announced late last month that the capital aimed to enlist people from across society, including cleaners, security guards and deliverymen, to act as lookouts for possible terrorist activity. The announcement came a few months after Beijing police began offering up to 40,000 yuan (HK$50,280) for tip-offs on suspected plots.

Some provinces have unveiled even bigger rewards to informants, with Yunnan offering up to 200,000 yuan and Inner Mongolia 500,000 yuan. In Shenzhen, authorities have left the amount uncapped. But some members of the public question whether such payments will be made if they were to step forward with information.

"The 40,000 yuan reward seems too good to be true," said a bicycle repairman in Beijing's Tuanjiehu area, who did not want to be identified. "Who can guarantee the reward won't be an empty promise?"

Tuanjiehu is a typical Beijing neighbourhood and its 32 residential compounds are home to about 60,000 people, many of whom are originally from outside the city. "People move all the time. How can you tell who's good and who's bad?" the repairman said, dismissing the tip-off system.

A security guard near Tuanjiehu Park was equally sceptical, saying he was concerned residents might endanger themselves if they tried to pursue information.

"People carry backpacks and pushcarts all the time. They come and go. We don't have any right to stop and check them. We're not the police," he said. "The police did not mention an informant protection plan. What if the terrorists went after the informant after he or she made a report? I think a life is worth a lot more than 40,000 yuan."

Li You, director of the community's public relations department, said volunteers would only be assisting officers. "It is crucial that we send a message to the terrorists that there are many eyes watching them," he said.

Zhao Yaoming, director of the Tuanjiehu Zhonglunan residents' committee, said people in the community should be able to feel safe in their neighbourhood. "We should not frighten the residents and make them live in fear. But we should take advantage of information about any suspicious people and act instantly," Zhao said.

Li Wei, an anti-terrorism expert at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said the mainland was following the practices of the United States and European countries in asking civilians to act as informants about potential terrorism suspects.