Exiled Hong Kong activist calls on west to ‘hold China accountable’

Nathan Law, one of the most prominent leaders of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and who fled to the UK last month, has called on western countries to impose sanctions on Chinese officials.

Mr Law left Hong Kong after Beijing imposed a national security law on the city and this week revealed that he was in London. The activist, who turned 27 on Monday, pledged to use his international platform to support colleagues in Hong Kong who cannot speak freely and to help the international community “work together to hold China accountable”.

“I have the moral responsibility to tell the truth,” he told the Financial Times in an interview. “My friends in Hong Kong . . . are in grave danger of being arrested and facing years of imprisonment.

“These people are very vulnerable and the international community should constantly voice their support for them in order to make China to consider more [carefully] when they commit these political persecutions.”

He argued that western governments should consider imposing individual sanctions on Chinese government officials and police officers who commit human rights abuses.

The UK unveiled a sanctions regime last week targeting individuals in Saudi Arabia, Russia, Myanmar and North Korea over human rights violations, but has been criticised for failing to name any Chinese targets. Some British MPs have called for Carrie Lam, the Hong Kong chief executive, to be included for her role in the security crackdown.

Mr Law was a founding member of Demosisto, a pro-democracy opposition party led by Joshua Wong, who has remained in Hong Kong. Both men rose to prominence as student protesters during the Umbrella Movement in 2014, when tens of thousands of young people occupied central Hong Kong to demand universal suffrage.

Mr Law won election to the city’s de facto parliament at the age of 23, making him the youngest member of the Legislative Council before he was disqualified by authorities who said he had not taken his oath of allegiance properly.

Demosisto was disbanded the same day Beijing’s security law was passed and its members have said they would pursue their cause individually.

Mr Law, who will address UK parliamentarians at a webinar on Wednesday, said the new legislation meant engaging in democratic resistance could lead to “a life-long sentence or [being] extradited back to China, or being secretly kidnapped and tortured”.

However, he added: “There will be more protests in Hong Kong, China will continue its hawkish and heavy-handed ways. For me, it’s important that we get China to understand that the whole world is awakened towards its authoritarian expansion.”

Mr Law — who was wary of discussing his plans or exact location because of safety concerns — said he was drawn to the UK because it had adopted a tougher attitude towards Beijing in recent months.

“In the UK, we have obviously witnessed quite a change in terms of the UK-China policy . . . We’ve seen a more and more assertive stance,” he said. “So, this is a historical time to be here and to contribute to the shift to a more coherent and assertive alliance around the world.”

The government on Tuesday announced it would ban the use of new Huawei equipment in the country’s 5G telecoms networks from the end of the year over national security concerns.

Mr Law applauded the move, writing on Twitter: “The world should know that these mega Chinese state companies serve the interest of the Chinese Communist party.”

China’s security crackdown on Hong Kong has been a growing source of tension between the two countries, especially after the UK offered a “route to citizenship” to about 3m citizens in the territory who have rights to British National Overseas passports.

The activist, who entered the UK on a standard visitor visa, said he did not know how long he would stay in London. But he admitted he was worried about those left behind.

“China’s getting more and more aggressive on the Hong Kong issue. It seems like they will just run it through. I’m sure that that will be Xi Jinping’s idea,” he said.

Nonetheless, Mr Law said he remained optimistic and hoped to return to Hong Kong when it was “free and democratic again”.

“As an activist, feeling hopeless is the last thing that I should do,” he said. “We need to have a hope of embracing success, and of expecting it. I’m not a blindly optimistic person, but I continue to voice hope and the possibility for change.”