Former Hong Kong opposition lawmaker and social welfare veteran Fernando Cheung migrates to Canada, saying ‘basic freedoms’ protected there

·4-min read

Former opposition lawmaker and social welfare veteran Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung has left Hong Kong with his family to migrate to Toronto, Canada, saying that at least his “basic freedoms no longer need to be granted by those in power”.

Cheung’s departure on Sunday was confirmed by Chung Kim-wah, deputy executive director of the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute, who left the city for Britain on April 25, citing “threats from powerful bodies” and fears over crossing “moving red lines”.

“I wish my respected friend Cheung Chiu-hung and his family a happy life in Canada,” Chung wrote on Facebook on Wednesday morning.

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Fernando Cheung, a social welfare veteran, in Legco in 2018. Photo: Dickson Lee
Fernando Cheung, a social welfare veteran, in Legco in 2018. Photo: Dickson Lee

Cheung, 65, known for championing causes for ethnic minority groups and helping the underprivileged during his time at the legislature until 2020, has a son and two daughters, including one with a severe intellectual disability.

Replying to Chung’s post on Facebook, Cheung said on Wednesday: “In my current situation, I need to spend more time taking care of my daughter and my family. Being a caregiver is not easy. We are still close to each other, no matter in any corner of the world, and we will never forget why we started.

“I am not yet in a stable situation now, but at least it is safe, and my basic freedoms no longer need to be granted by those in power.”

Former opposition lawmaker Bottle Shiu Ka-chun also confirmed on social media that Cheung had bade farewell to the city, adding that like many others, Cheung left Hong Kong “unwillingly”.

“This was what I told him when he boarded the plane: Thank you for fighting for Hong Kong until the last moment. Stay safe and take care of yourself. Fer, with countless vivid memories – in the classroom, on the streets, in Legco, courtroom and prison – goodbye to you,” he wrote.

Having known Cheung since the 1990s, Shiu praised him for his uncompromising dedication to society and his care for issues such as poverty and rights for the disabled, refugees and imprisoned. He also revealed that when Cheung was imprisoned for three weeks this February, even some officials could not help but bemoan his plight.

Cheung (left) with peers at an orientation tour in Legco in 2004. Photo: SCMP
Cheung (left) with peers at an orientation tour in Legco in 2004. Photo: SCMP

Macau-born Cheung, 65, was educated in Hong Kong and the United States, and obtained American citizenship before he returned in 1996 to teach social work at Polytechnic University.

He gave up his US citizenship to run for the legislature in 2004, representing the social welfare sector, defeating rival Peter Cheung Kwok-che by just 64 votes.

Why we turned our backs on Legco: three Hong Kong lawmakers explain all

Since then, he has been in and out of the Legislative Council over a span of 12 years until 2020, when he resigned with 14 other colleagues in protest against the disqualification of four of their peers. Beijing had passed a resolution stating lawmakers could be removed summarily over prohibited acts, including threatening national security and refusing to endorse China’s sovereignty, causing the four to be unseated.

During an interview with the Post at the time, Cheung said: “Our sky has fallen apart now … Even people like me, regarded as very ‘soft’ protesters, have become Beijing’s target.”

Cheung has kept a low profile since then, hoping to spend more time with his family, but has still commented occasionally on social issues.

Ex-Hong Kong opposition lawmaker jailed for 3 weeks for contempt

This February, the former lawmaker was jailed for three weeks on a contempt charge for protesting against a rival assuming control in a chaotic Legco meeting in 2020, in the first such conviction since indirect elections were introduced more than three decades ago.

Cheung pleaded guilty, saying he would only admit the charge but not any wrongdoing, as he maintained his prosecution was driven by political motives.

“For me, Legco is an important structure that facilitates improvements in society. I will never hold Legco in contempt,” Cheung said as he read out a statement in the dock.

“We [opposition lawmakers] respect the ‘one country, two systems’ principle and strictly abide by the Basic Law, but very unfortunately, the majority of my colleagues who had insisted on our peaceful ways are already in jail.”

Since the enactment of the Beijing-imposed national security law in 2020, at least 20 prominent figures in the opposition camp have fled Hong Kong for London, Australia and Canada. Among them are former lawmakers Ted Hui Chi-fung, Dennis Kwok and Lee Wing-tat.

Others who have recently left Hong Kong include Michael Vidler, a human rights lawyer who had previously taken cases relating to the 2019 anti-government protests and transgender rights, and political cartoonist Ah To.

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