‘Filled with fear’: Former Hong Kong student leader seeks UK asylum

Tony Chung was released in June after serving jail term under security law but said he lived under constant pressure from authorities.

Tony Chung pictured in Hong Kong in 2020. His sitting in the grass looking at his phone.
Tony Chung in Hong Kong in August 2020 l[File: Isaac Lawrence/AFP]

Tony Chung, the former leader of a Hong Kong pro-independence group who was jailed under the territory’s national security law, has fled to the United Kingdom saying his life in Hong Kong was “filled with fear”.

Chung, who was 20 when he was sentenced to three and a half years in prison in 2021 after pleading guilty to “secession“, said in a social media post that he had flown to the UK from Japan and arrived in London on the evening of December 27 where he “formally applied for political asylum” on entry.

He shared a picture of himself at UK arrivals with his suitcase.

“Even though I had anticipated this day in the past, I still felt heavy after making up my mind,” wrote Chung, who as a teenager headed the now-defunct Studentlocalism group. “Since I joined the political struggle at the age of 14, I have always believed that Hong Kong is the only home of our Hong Kong nation, and we should never be the ones to leave.”

Beijing imposed the national security law on Hong Kong in mid-2020, after huge and sometimes violent pro-democracy protests had rocked the territory the previous year, claiming the legislation was necessary to restore stability. The law punishes activities deemed as subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces, and extremism with up to life in prison, and has led to hundreds of arrests. Others, including elected politicians, activists and journalists have gone into exile.

Chung said he had been released from prison in June 2023 but was required to report regularly to the authorities.

“In the past six months, with no income from any work, the national security police officers kept on coercing and inducing me to join them,” Chung wrote on Facebook, saying the situation had affected his physical and mental health.

Elaborating on the situation on X, Frances Hui, the policy and advocacy coordinator for the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation, said that during those meetings, Chung was “coerced to provide details of every interpersonal interaction that he made – who he met [names and contact info], where they met [and] what they discussed. They also obtained access to his bank statements, financial aid applications etc …”

The officers also offered him money to “snitch on others” and mentioned arranging a trip to China, she added, while Chung said he was prevented from seeking help from a lawyer or anyone else because of a confidentiality clause surrounding his interactions with the national security police.

Escape via Japan

News of Chung’s arrival in the UK, came weeks after Agnes Chow, another prominent pro-democracy activist, announced she was in Canada and had no plans to return to the territory.

Chow, whose parents were called in for questioning by police on Friday after the 27-year-old failed to report to police as part of her bail conditions, cited the authorities’ constant scrutiny among the reasons for her decision.

She too had been jailed previously –  for unauthorised assembly – and also remained under tight monitoring after her release.

Chung cited similar reasons to Chow for his decision to go into exile, saying he was convinced that his civic freedoms would never be restored, despite completing his sentence.

“Every time I was interviewed by national security personnel, I was filled with fear,” he wrote. “I was afraid that they would accuse me of endangering national security and ask me to prove my innocence.”

Chung persuaded the prison service to allow him to travel overseas for Christmas and submitted flight tickets to Okinawa, accommodation and other information to secure the necessary permissions.

On the southern Japanese island, after seeking advice from people and organisations in the United States, UK and Canada, he decided it was best for him to travel to Britain.

A number of prominent activists and politicians have secured asylum in London since the crackdown, while the UK has given all Hong Kong people with British National Overseas (BNO) status the right to settle and a path to citizenship.

Hong Kong police have issued “bounties” for more than a dozen Hong Kong activists living overseas, with chief superintendent of the police national security department Steve Li alleging: “They all betrayed their own country and betrayed Hong Kong.”

John Lee, the territory’s leader, threatened “fugitives would be pursued for life” after Chow revealed she was in Canada.

Hong Kong was a British colony for more than a century until 1997, and the UK government says the security law breaches treaty commitments Beijing made ahead of the resumption of sovereignty.

Writing on X, UK Security Minister Tom Tugendhat welcomed Chung to London.

Chung said he planned to continue his studies, and reiterated his commitment to democracy.

“As long as the Hong Kong people never give up, the seeds of freedom and democracy will one day sprout again,” he wrote.

Source: Al Jazeera