Beijing has been accused of coercing "confession videos" out of prisoners to intimidate others, but such tapings were unprecedented in Hong Kong.
Tsang Chi-kin, 22, who was shot by the police during the 2019 protests and later sentenced to 47 months in prison, was seen on a national security programme aired by TVB on Monday.
The show, called National Security Law– the Cornerstone of Prosperity and Stability, featured clips of a male silhouette in prison clothes without revealing his face.
Critics have accused Hong Kong of weaponising the draconian national security law to throttle dissent following the 2019 protests.
During the two-minute episode, Tsang, who was just 18 years old in 2019, recalled his experience during the pro-democracy protest and later his bid to escape from Hong Kong.
He said he emerged from obscurity and became one of the prominent frontline protesters because of the "intensifying atmosphere" and that "everyone else was doing the same".
Tsang added: "You need to think clearly before you do anything, so you can prevent yourself from being incited and instigated by others".
“Those who face the consequences in the end are only ourselves and our family.”
Tsang was sentenced to three years and 11 months in prison in October 2023 after he pleaded guilty to charges of rioting, assaulting a police officer and preventing the course of justice.
After being released on bail, Tsang evaded the police for nearly two years by shuttling between safe houses but were caught on a taxi heading to a pier where they planned to board a speedboat to Taiwan.
In October 2020, he tried to seek asylum at the US Consulate but was turned away.
"When moving between safehouses, we hid in cardboard boxes to be transported as if we were goods,” Tsang said during the interview.
A voiceover explained that Tsang gave his savings of HK$100,000 (£10,190) to a “middle man" to orchestrate his escape.
The video interview sparked outrage among activists and rights groups, fearing a further clampdown on dissent in Hong Kong.
"Tsang Chi-kin ... has appeared in a televised 'confession' produced by Hong Kong authorities, in the style of the forced video confessions that are common in the Mainland [sic]," Human Rights in China said in a statement.
Tik Chi-yuen, a liberal lawmaker, told the South China Morning Post that the methods used in the case of Tsang and activist Agnes Chow were unprecedented.
“Hong Kong has its ways of doing things, if you copy the methods used by mainland China, it may be counterproductive ... it will also lead to concerns as to whether these promotional efforts are done involuntarily,” he said.
Mr Tik urged the city authorities to explain whether they had "new methods to handle such cases and the rehabilitation of those involved to avoid speculation".
“His name is Tsang Chi-kin, another victim under the #CCP [Chinese Communist Party] regime,” said a social media user on X, formerly known as Twitter.
“This is how #HongKong govt humiliates its freedom-loving youth.”
18 y/o shot by police, went into hiding for 2 yrs, sentenced to 47 months imprisonment, and appeared on a televised confession broadcast today
His name is Tsang Chi-kin, another victim under the #CCP regime
This is how #HongKong govt humiliates its freedom-loving youth pic.twitter.com/W408K7Ajb8
— Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong. 重光團隊 (@Stand_with_HK) December 6, 2023
“The sense of remorse Kin is asked to show and propagate is self-antagonization: reject your past and yourself then you will be temporarily relieved from the regime’s targeting,” said Anna Kwok, executive director of Hong Kong Democracy Council.
“But it does not stop here. The Chinese Communist Party is attempting to brainwash our generation,” she added.
The sense of remorse Kin is asked to show and propagate is self-antagonization: reject your past and yourself then you will be temporarily relieved from the regime's targeting.
But it does not stop here. The Chinese Communist Party is attempting to brainwash our generation. https://t.co/g2oO8hE7HT
— Anna Kwok 郭鳳儀 (@AnnaKwokFY) December 5, 2023
The programme was aired a day after one of the best-known democracy activists, Chow, announced that she had moved to Canada and won’t return to Hong Kong to meet her bail conditions.
Ms Chow said she was required to report to the Hong Kong police this month as part of a national security case, but decided against it, citing her mental health condition.
Ms Chow claimed she had to take a patriotic trip to Senzhen accompanied by the police officer and was forced to write “letters of repentance” expressing regret over her past political associations.