A prominent pro-democracy activist has fled Hong Kong to seek asylum in the UK, in breach of a surveillance order.
Tony Chung, 22, told the BBC he had been under constant surveillance in Hong Kong, where police had put him under “tremendous stress”.
He also claimed he felt pressured by police to become a paid informant, giving information about his fellow activists.
Chung was convicted of calling for Hong Kong to secede under a tough security law. He completed his sentence in June.
But upon his release, he said he was thrust into a situation that was “an even bigger and more dangerous prison” than the one he left.
He is subject to a one-year supervision order which requires him to seek permission to travel abroad. Authorities allowed him to travel to Japan on December 20 for a six-day vacation.
While there, he said he began to cry at the thought of not returning to Hong Kong and decided to seek asylum in the United Kingdom.
Chung is one of several pro-democracy protesters who have fled Hong Kong in recent years.
After months of mass protests in 2019, Beijing imposed a strict national security law deemed necessary to bring stability to the city. The legislation, which bans many forms of dissent, has been widely used against activists like Chung.
In late 2021, he was sentenced to three years and seven months in prison for arguing that Hong Kong should seek independence. Studentlocalism, the fringe group he led, had disbanded before the law took effect.
He was also convicted of insulting the national flag in a separate case in December 2020. He had been arrested near the US consulate in October that year – his supporters say he was on his way to seek asylum policy.
Chung claimed that after his release on June 5, national security police requested to meet with him every two to four weeks, questioning him about every detail of his activities, including information on everyone he he met and with whom he was in contact.
“They told me they were going to meet with me regularly next year,” he said. “How could I reject them? I can’t say no to them at all.”
He said police also asked him to report the location and activities of other pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong.
“Even though I insisted on only providing irrelevant information,” Chung said, “I could not accept the fact that I was giving information about other people to the police.”
When police were not satisfied with his answers, they used intimidation to force him to divulge more information, he said.
“They told me… that they needed me to prove that I was trustworthy and that I had nothing to hide. It put a lot of stress on me. I (couldn’t) say to these people that they had already been targeted.”
A confidential statement he signed before his release from prison prevented him from disclosing his interactions with the national security police to third parties, including lawyers, he said.
After two months of regular meetings, police offered him money, ranging from HKD$500 ($64; £49) to HKD$3,000, after their conversations, he said.
He said he felt he “had no choice” – because not accepting the payments would raise suspicion that he was “uncooperative”.
But taking the money made him feel guilty. “Although the information I gave is unlikely to result in tangible consequences, I still feel this way,” he said.
Chung added that he felt like he had no control over his life, adding that the police had all of his personal information, including copies of his bank details, student ID and school schedule , in its files.
“I could never relax, not even for a second,” he said, adding that even something as simple as a walk became stressful for him – because he felt he had to constantly think how to justify his actions to the police and feared being arrested. .
As the constant pressure took a toll on his mental and physical health, he began to consider traveling abroad. The Hong Kong Correctional Service allowed him to travel to Japan from December 20 on the condition that he returns home on December 25.
“As I was planning my next steps at the hotel (in Japan), I started crying. I had thought about the reality of having to leave Hong Kong one day, but I still wasn’t ready to leave if early,” he said. .
“But the decision is now irreversible, at least in the near future.”
Now that he is in the UK, he hopes to return to his studies and focus on his health.
“And once I’m settled, I hope I can still do something for Hong Kong.”
Earlier this month, pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow announced on social media that she had skipped bail and would not return to Hong Kong after studying in Canada.
Chow, who was arrested for “collusion with foreign forces” under the national security law, also highlighted the government’s strict restrictions. She was granted permission to study abroad while she was under investigation.
If Chow and Chung are now among the pro-democracy activists outside Hong Kong, many others remain on trial in the territory.
Jailed media mogul Jimmy Lai is accused of several national security offenses, including “collusion with foreign forces.”
A group of 47 pro-democracy activists and lawmakers were also accused of endangering national security by holding unofficial primary elections. The trial concluded closing arguments in early December.
Gn En Hd