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China Accuses UK of Harbouring Hong Kong Fugitives

China says the UK is sheltering fugitives after Hong Kong put bounties on the heads of eight pro-democracy activists who fled the territory.

The statement from its London embassy came after the UK said it would not tolerate attempts by China to silence individuals in the UK or overseas.

The eight left the former British territory after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law in 2020.

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive John Lee said they would be “pursued for life”.

He urged them to give themselves up, adding that otherwise they would spend their days in fear.

“British politicians have openly offered protection for fugitives,” a spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in London said late on Monday, condemning what it alleged was “crude interference in Hong Kong’s rule of law and China’s internal affairs”.

On Monday a bounty of HK$1m (£100,581; $127,637) was offered for the activists’ arrest.

The eight named in the announcement are all based in the UK, the US and Australia – countries which do not have extradition treaties with China.

One pro-democracy campaigner who fled Hong Kong told the BBC his life has become more dangerous because of the bounty offered for his arrest.

Nathan Law, who lives in the UK, said he needed to be “more careful” about divulging his whereabouts as a result of the bounty.

The eight activists targeted are accused of colluding with foreign forces – a crime that can carry a sentence of life in prison. The offence comes under Hong Kong’s draconian security law, which was imposed three years ago after widespread pro-democracy protests took place in 2019.

Beijing has said the security law is needed to bring stability to the city, but critics say it is designed to squash dissent.

UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said: “We call on Beijing to remove the national security law and for the Hong Kong authorities to end their targeting of those who stand up for freedom and democracy.”

Under the law, hundreds of pro-democracy campaigners have been arrested and convicted in Hong Kong. 

Mr Law, one of the most prominent figures in the pro-democracy movement, said that while he felt his situation was “relatively safe” in the UK, he would have to be more vigilant, including when transiting through certain countries.

“All these things may put my life in to dangerous situations if I’m not careful enough of who I meet or where I go. It makes me have to live in a more careful life.”

One of the other exiled activists – Anna Kwok, executive director of the Hong Kong Democracy Council – said the bounty was aimed at intimidating her and her fellow activists.

She said in a statement they were all “united in our fight for freedom and democracy in our home, Hong Kong”.

She told the BBC’s Newshour programme she had felt initial shock on hearing of the bounties but wanted to speak out.

“That’s exactly the kind of thing the Hong Kong government and the Chinese Communist party would do – which is to intimidate people into not doing anything, silencing them.

“And that’s why immediately I thought OK, I should make this a big thing and I should definitely talk about the transnational repression that’s going on here and also the scare tactics – as well as how the Hong Kong government is just trying to see by which point would the international community smack their hands and tell them to back off.”

Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong said her government was “deeply disappointed” by the announcement and said Australia “remains deeply concerned by the continuing erosion of Hong Kong’s rights, freedoms and autonomy”.

The US state department said the move sets “a dangerous precedent that threatens the human rights and fundamental freedoms of people all over the world”.

The other six activists named in the announcement are Ted Hui, Dennis Kwok, Mung Siu-tat, Elmer Yuen, Finn Law and Kevin Yam.

Dozens of Hong Kong civil society groups around the world have called on Western governments to introduce measures to protect the freedoms of Hong Kong activists in exile – and to make clear the security law does not apply in their jurisdictions.

The bounties were “further evidence that this draconian law is being used extraterritorially and retrospectively to silence pro-democracy voices and intimidate the Hong Kong community overseas,” the groups said in a statement.

Source : BBC