Hong Kong activists granted refugee status by Germany
Move believed to be first time dissenters from Hong Kong have been granted asylum abroad
Former Hong Kong independence activists Ray Wong and Alan Li in Berlin. Photograph: Ray Wong/AFP
The move by Germany underlines growing international concerns over erosions of rule of law and freedom of speech in Hong Kong, despite guarantees these liberties would be respected when the territory was handed over to China in 1997.
Documentation provided by the activists show they were granted the right to stay in Germany a year ago. The German consulate in Hong Kong did not respond to requests for comment on news of the decision.
Concerns about rule of law in the territory have been exacerbated by the Hong Kong government’s plan to fast-track a legal amendment enabling the extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China, a move that has drawn fierce domestic and international opposition.
“No one likes to leave the place where you grow up, it is a big price for me to pay,” said one of the activists, Ray Wong Toi-yeung,. He said he wept one day while on the street in Germany because he missed his own culture and home so much.
Mr Wong (25) and his fellow activist Alan Li Tung-sing (27) are leading members of Hong Kong Indigenous, a radical group that fought for Hong Kong independence. The two were charged with rioting offences for their part in civil unrest in 2016 in the main shopping district of the former British colony.
They fled Hong Kong for Germany in November 2017 while on bail and were listed as wanted in the territory. A co-activist from the same group, Edward Leung, who stayed in Hong Kong, was last year sentenced to six years in jail on similar charges.
The Hong Kong government forwarded inquiries about the activists’ asylum bid to the Hong Kong police, which declined to comment on the specific case, saying legal proceedings were under way. “In general, the police will, according to the circumstances of the case, track down the whereabouts of the suspects and arrest them by all possible means,” said a police spokesman.
Mr Wong and Mr Li have stayed in three different refugee camps in Germany while awaiting the approval of their application for asylum. They were given refugee status one year ago but only chose to reveal this now to raise awareness of Hong Kong’s extradition amendment and the 30th anniversary of China’s Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4th.
“It is important have someone outside [out of prison] to tell the world what’s happening in Hong Kong,” Mr Wong said.
“I will never be able to come back if Hong Kong can extradite me back to China once I return,” he said. “It is important for me to speak up as one of the first political refugees of Hong Kong.”
Mr Wong said the German government did not give a specific reason for granting them refugee status. But he said he had told German government officials during interviews that he believed his charges in Hong Kong were politically motivated.
He chose to go to Germany because he believed “Germany has a much stronger stance towards China, especially in terms of human rights”. He said he was learning German at the University of Göttingen and would start a politics and philosophy degree in September.
Patrick Poon, a Hong Kong-based researcher for Amnesty International, said the granting of asylum to the pair was “a very clear message” that the human rights situation in Hong Kong was deteriorating.
He said he was concerned that Hong Kong’s treatment of human rights was now on par with China or other countries with poor track records in the area.
Eleven international parliamentarians from countries including Germany, Canada, Malaysia, the UK, Myanmar and The Philippines, including those from Germany’s Greens and Christian Democratic Union parties, said in a statement that Mr Leung had “been a victim of” the Hong Kong government’s “abuse of the judicial system to imprison political opponents”.
Another Hong Konger, Lee Sin-yi, who is facing a similar rioting charge, is on the run in Taiwan. “More Hong Kongers will go into exile,” she said in a recording broadcast earlier this month by a pro-Taiwan independence group.
The two men said they expected to speak at a seminar in the German parliament to mark the June 4th massacre. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019