For Hong Kong students in Taiwan, island’s freedom and democracy appeal

Lawrence Chung

Hongkongers studying in Taiwan who support the campaign against the city’s controversial extradition bill say moving to the self-ruled island permanently is an option – but it is not a decision they want to rush into.

They say the now-suspended bill has created a “sense of crisis”, and they fear they could lose their freedoms if the Hong Kong government is forced to take tougher action against protesters.

Gary Cheung, 25, who is studying filmmaking at the National Taiwan University of Arts in Taipei, said he could understand Hong Kong protesters wanting to flee to the island.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if a group of Hong Kong people are seeking political asylum here, fearing they will be prosecuted or even jailed for their involvement in the protests over the extradition bill,” Cheung said.

On Friday, Taiwanese media reported that more than 30 Hongkongers had arrived in Taiwan to seek shelter because they feared they would be prosecuted over their involvement in storming the city’s legislature during protests on July 1.

The activists were receiving assistance from local NGOs and human rights groups and were staying in different locations on the island, and another 30 protesters still in Hong Kong were also planning to go to Taiwan, according to the reports.

“The bill has yet to be retracted and could possibly be revived if the Hong Kong government is forced by the mainland to take tougher action,” Cheung said, despite a pledge by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor that the shelved bill was “dead”. “That uncertainty explains why a number of protesters have this sense of crisis over the possible repercussions of the mass protests.”

Hong Kong has been rocked by protests and violent clashes since early June, with up to 2 million demonstrators taking to the streets to oppose the bill that would allow the transfer of criminal suspects to jurisdictions including mainland China, where critics say there is no guarantee of a fair trial. The government suspended the bill, but protesters have continued to call for its full withdrawal and an independent investigation into the use of force by police.

Protesters storm the Legislative Council chamber in Hong Kong on July 1. Photo: Winson Wong

Cheung was one of dozens of Hong Kong students in Taiwan who showed their support for the protesters outside the presidential office in Taipei last month, calling on the island’s leader, Tsai Ing-wen, to help those seeking asylum.

“I can’t imagine what it will be like if this bill is revived and passed,” he said, claiming that Beijing could easily use it to detain people for speaking out against it.

“Taiwan is the place of choice for many Hong Kong people, given its free and democratic environment. And since the government has offered strong support for the anti-extradition bill campaign, I hope it can reach out to these people and lend them a helping hand,” he said.

Tsai has acknowledged that Hong Kong protesters have fled to Taiwan and said the government would consider any applications to seek shelter there “on humanitarian grounds”, according to Taiwan’s Central News Agency.

Cheung, a first-year student, said staying in Taiwan was also an option for him after he graduated.

“But I still want to go back to Hong Kong after graduation, to do something for my fellow citizens and do all I can to maintain the freedom and democracy there,” said Cheung, who was one of more than 80 people arrested and charged with “obstructing public servants in the course of their duty” when the final Occupy Central pro-democracy protesters were cleared from Mong Kok in 2014.

Hong Kong leader’s advisers dismiss idea of amnesty for all protesters

Another Hong Kong student in Taipei, Ho Wing-tung, 22, who set up Hong Kong Outlanders, a group supporting the anti-extradition protesters, said she was pessimistic about the city’s future.

“Even if we succeed in blocking the bill, there will be a second, third and fourth draconian bill to replace it sooner or later,” said Ho, who is in the final year of a philosophy degree at Chinese Culture University.

“Since the one country, two systems model has been applied in Hong Kong, the mainland authorities have gradually changed what they want to change to obstruct a free and democratic system in the city,” she said. “Where is the so-called autonomy the Chinese government promised?”

Ho added that Taiwanese should not believe that the model would be good for them.

“Many Hong Kong people aged between 20 and 30 believe that the city would be better off being free from mainland control,” she said.

Ho said living permanently in Taiwan was an option for her, but she also expected Beijing would try to erode the city’s freedoms and she wanted to do something for Hong Kong by going back and voicing her opposition.

Lin Fei-fan, 31, who was a leader of the Sunflower student movement in Taiwan in 2014 that blocked a sweeping trade deal with the mainland, said many civic groups and the Taiwanese government supported the campaign against the extradition bill in Hong Kong, and they were watching the situation closely.

“Taiwan doesn’t have refugee legislation, but for those who need help from the government they can use the Act Governing Relations with Hong Kong and Macau,” Lin said.

Under the act, assistance is to be provided to residents of the two cities if their safety and liberty are immediately threatened for political reasons.

Lin said the Hong Kong protesters should be able to stay in Taiwan if they met certain requirements.

There are nearly 9,000 students from Hong Kong in Taiwan at present. They can apply for permanent residency after working in Taiwan for five years, and they must live there for 183 days of the year.

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