In a Possible First for Hong Kong, Activists Wanted by Police Gain Protection in Germany – Smart Media Magazine

In a Possible First for Hong Kong, Activists Wanted by Police Gain Protection in Germany

Two years ago, Ray Wong and Alan Li, political activists in Hong Kong, were facing rioting charges over an all-night street clash with the police. They jumped bail and disappeared.

Now they have come forward to say that they are under refugee protection in Germany, making them likely to be the first individuals from the semiautonomous Chinese city to have obtained such sanctuary. The move could be a turning point in shifting global views of Hong Kong, where individual freedoms have eroded as Beijing tightens its hold, threatening the city’s reputation as an oasis of rule of law in Asia.

Disclosure of Germany’s decision, made last year, is likely to inflame an already heated debate in Hong Kong over a proposal to let the territory’s government send criminal suspects to jurisdictions with which it does not have extradition agreements, including mainland China.

Critics are worried that those whose work or political views run afoul of the ruling Communist Party in Beijing could be ensnared. The government has said people accused of political crimes will not be extradited and that the changes will prevent Hong Kong from becoming a haven for criminals.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese control in 1997 under a governing model called “one country, two systems,” with more robust protections for individual rights than in the mainland. While it is common for Western countries to provide political asylum to Chinese dissidents, it is rare for this practice to apply to individuals from Hong Kong, a city that has long benefited from its reputation for independent courts and strong rule of law.

Mr. Wong did not publicly reveal his whereabouts after he fled Hong Kong, fearing that the government would pursue him. But last month, he decided to open up about obtaining protection from Germany.

“I just feel like I couldn’t hide anymore,” he wrote in a text message. “I would eventually be recognized.”

Mr. Wong and Mr. Li have declined further comment. Mr. Wong said he would speak in greater detail at a later date.

Germany’s decision reflects poorly on Hong Kong, said Willy Lam, an adjunct professor in China studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“It shows that the breathing space for political activism is getting squeezed,” he said.

In fall 2017, while Mr. Wong and Mr. Li were free on bail, a court granted them permission to travel to Germany. Though they had been ordered to surrender their passports after the trip, they held onto them. On Nov. 4, they left Hong Kong again, flying first to Taiwan, then Berlin. This time, they did not return.

After requesting asylum, they bunked in an old British army barracks, then a housing block in central Germany, where they roomed with people from the Middle East and Africa. The two Cantonese speakers spent their time studying German.

In May 2018, the government notified Mr. Wong and Mr. Li that their applications had been approved.

Germany offers refugee protection if applicants can show persecution because of nationality, religion, political opinion or for belonging to a certain social group. The designation enables them to live, work and attend school in Germany for three years.

Mr. Wong said he believed he was allowed to retain his passport because the Hong Kong government wanted him to leave and become irrelevant.

“The strategy of success in China is for all activists to leave,” he said before he left Hong Kong for good. “To China, they become useless. They cannot threaten the central authority.”

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