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Hong Kong independence activist seeks asylum in UK after serving prison sentence

HONG KONG (AP) — An activist who campaigned for Hong Kong’s independence and was jailed under a a radical national security law fled to Britain to seek political asylum, according to his social media posts Friday.

Tony Chung was among the first people convicted under the Beijing-imposed law introduced after the 2019 pro-democracy protests. He was convicted of secession and money laundering in 2020 and sentenced to 43 months from prison.

The intimidation faced by Hong Kong dissidents like Chung reflects the drastic erosion of freedoms promised to the former British colony when it returned to China in 1997. But Beijing and Hong Kong have hailed the security law as bringing stability in the city.

Chung detailed in two Instagram posts how he was under supervision order after his release from prison, banned from speaking in public. He was asked to meet regularly with national security authorities and report on his movements, the people he met and the conversations he had.

He was prevented from taking a specific summer job, he said, which effectively deprived him of his financial independence. Authorities offered to pay him for information about others to prove he had reformed, he wrote, and wanted him to go to mainland China.

Chung said he was made to sign a document that prohibited him from disclosing his conversations with authorities, so he could not seek help from any attorney or speak to anyone about his situation.

“Under enormous stress and fear, I can only bear in silence,” he said.

He started getting sick in October and doctors told him his immune system was compromised due to massive mental stress, he said in his posts. He then persuaded corrections officials to let him travel to Okinawa, Japan, for a vacation to deal with his emotions. During the trip, he sought help from organizations and people based abroad. He arrived in Britain from Japan on Wednesday to seek asylum.

“It also means that I will not be able to return to my home, Hong Kong, in the near future,” he said. “Although I had anticipated this day in the past, I had a heavy heart when I made my decision.”

Chung was the organizer of the now-disbanded pro-independence student organization Studentlocalism before he was arrested in 2020 near the U.S. consulate in Hong Kong, where media said he hoped to seek protection.

At a press conference, Leung Kin-ip, deputy commissioner of Hong Kong’s Department of Correctional Services, condemned Chung for “shirking responsibility” and posting comments “endangering national security.” . He said a recall order had been issued for Chung to be returned to prison to serve the remainder of his sentence. The ministry also asked other law enforcement agencies to put him on a wanted list.

Leung said Chung was required to let them know if he was leaving Hong Kong and the duration of his trip, but was not prevented from leaving the territory.

“This is a breach of trust. He lied to us and said he would travel. It’s very bad,” he said.

In response to questions about Chung being barred from taking his summer job, Leung said officers were allowed to impose restrictions if they felt a person was at risk of repeating their crime, with the department focusing on rehabilitation needs. He insisted that the department had suggested other part-time jobs to Chung and that his department had not violated the right to free speech.

In an email response to questions from The Associated Press, Hong Kong police strongly condemned the violation of surveillance orders or bail conditions by individuals who have fled the city.

“Not only did they not reflect on the harm they caused to Hong Kong and the public, but they also shamefully asked foreign anti-China forces for help under the guise of being victims,” said the police.

They did not confirm Chung’s claims that they had offered to pay him an informant’s fee, but said the National Security Department had indeed collected intelligence through various channels and individuals.

The city’s security services are trying to obtain information on several dissidents. Hong Kong police offer rewards for data that led to the arrest of 13 foreign-based operations and drew criticism from Western governments.

Earlier in December, prominent pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow, who left Hong Kong for Canada and has no plans to return to fulfill his bail conditions, reported similar pressure from the authorities. Her passport, confiscated earlier by police, was only returned to her under certain conditions, including a visit to mainland China with authorities, she said.

In an email response to the AP, Hong Kong police said Chow failed to report to the police station as required on Thursday and violated her bail conditions. The response said the police would “spare no effort to bring her to justice.” Local media, including the South China Morning Post, cited unnamed sources saying Chow’s parents went to the police station on Friday to help with their investigation.

Now in Britain, Chung said he would devote himself to his city as a “Hong Konger in exile”.

“I believe that only when Hong Kong people do not give up will the seeds of freedom and democracy one day sprout again,” he said.

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