Hong Kong Activists Face Challenges Abroad

With last month’s implementation of the National Security Law in Hong Kong, many activists and participants in pro-democracy protests have fled the city out of fear of imminent arrest. Several of those who remained have indeed been arrested, including Apple Daily publisher Jimmy Lai and activist Agnes Chow, both of whom were detained Monday under the National Security Law (NSL) before being released on bail. Other prominent activists in Hong Kong have faced increasing pressure in recent weeks, with 24—including prominent activist Joshua Wong—charged for participating in the annual June 4 vigil. More broadly, since the NSL was implemented July 1, Hong Kong has faced a sharp crackdown on free speech and dissent especially targeting the media, publishing, and education.

Nathan Law is among the most prominent activists to have left Hong Kong. He is now living in London, where he remains very active in support of Hong Kong’s democracy movement and in lobbying Western governments to intervene on its behalf. His recent tweets demonstrate the personal sacrifice that he and many of his fellow activists face when they enter a life in exile.

Many of those who left Hong Kong were less prominent in the democracy movement but feared arrest simply for participating in protests. Often very young, many are now living abroad with little support and few resources. For The Washington Post, Shibani Mahtani interviews some of these Hong Kong citizens about their lives abroad, including Jack, who was arrested for rioting last summer and left Hong Kong while out on bail:

Jack is among a growing number of Hong Kong protesters — mostly in their teens and early 20s — who have fled abroad and are living in legal limbo after participating in the months-long uprising against Beijing’s tightening control. Ranging from prominent activists to unknowns who had little political awareness before last summer, they have scattered as far as Britain, Germany and Canada, though many are in nearby Taiwan.

[…] With Beijing’s security law taking effect on July 1 — imposing penalties of up to life in prison for vaguely defined offenses such as secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign collusion, [Brian Leung Kai-ping, a PhD candidate at the University of Washington] abandoned plans to return to Hong Kong to face his charges, making him a wanted person. Though currently on a student visa, he intends to remain in the United States, probably by applying for asylum.

“I thought I would just go back, be sent to jail for several months, and that would be a reasonable punishment,” Leung said in an interview, admitting such hope was misplaced.

“There’s still an element of shock. I never thought that going to a street protest would make you end up as a refugee — it is still hard to swallow.” [Source]

The role of activists who work outside of Hong Kong is complicated by a provision in the NSL which covers “offences under this Law committed against the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region from outside the Region by a person who is not a permanent resident of the Region,” effectively giving the Chinese government jurisdiction over citizens of any country who commit acts anywhere in the world. Samuel Chu, an activist and U.S. citizen living in Washington D.C., was one of six people outside Hong Kong to be issued arrest warrants under the NSL. In an op-ed for The New York Times, he wrote:

Americans have watched the protests in Hong Kong from a distance and many have shared support — but the case of the warrants out for me and the other five democracy advocates has now made the threats of censorship, suppression and arrest real, and not just for Hong Kongers in Hong Kong. It raises the possibility that it could now ensnare any American.

Which makes all of us Hong Kongers now. [Source]

Michael Abramowitz, the President of Freedom House who was recently named on a Chinese government sanctions list, wrote for The Atlantic about how the Chinese government is increasingly reaching beyond their borders to try to influence the global response to events in Hong Kong and elsewhere:

The CCP’s efforts go well beyond intimidation of well-known human-rights groups. In July, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the indictment of two Chinese nationals alleged to have conducted a 10-year computer hacking campaign for the Chinese government that included the targeting of “individual dissidents, clergy, and democratic and human rights activists in the United States.”

Uighurs living in the U.S. have received threats from security officials in China, intended to silence their reports about what has been happening to their family members detained in mass internment camps in Xinjiang. Major U.S. news outlets, Chinese media in the diaspora, activist groups supporting freedom for Tibetans, Falun Gong practitioners, Chinese human-rights defenders, and campaigners against high-level corruption in China have also been hit with costly website blocks, cyberattacks, threats against advertisers, and pressure to self-censor.

Hong Kong has emerged as a new CCP redline for U.S. corporations, which have come under pressure to censor their own communications and products for audiences outside China.

[…] My colleagues at Freedom House are often told that although the repression happening in Hong Kong may be terrible, it doesn’t necessarily affect us here at home. But that’s just not true. CCP repression is already shaping what we can say, where we can travel, the products we buy, and even the news we read.

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