Hong Kong cancels passports of six self-exiled democracy activists

London, Washington — Hong Kong authorities have canceled the passports of six pro-democracy activists living in self-exile in Britain.

A statement issued Wednesday identified Nathan Law, Finn Lau, Christopher Mung, Simon Cheng, Johnny Fok and Tony Choi as “lawless wanted criminals hiding in the United Kingdom.”

The statement said the six “continue to blatantly engage in activities that endanger national security,” including making remarks that slander Hong Kong.

During a press conference, Hong Kong Secretary for Security Chris Tang announced the designation of six individuals as “specified absconders” under the “Safeguarding National Security Ordinance” commonly known as Article 23.   

Tang expressed concerns about British entities attempting to influence Hong Kong’s governance and security cases, citing the listed individuals’ activities as threats to national security.

Tang mentioned that individuals wishing to return to Hong Kong and surrender could seek assistance from its immigration department.

Simon Cheng, co-founder of the Hongkongers in Britain group, said the revocation of the passports can be seen as an act of retaliation specifically directed at Hong Kong exiles currently living in the U.K.  

Last month, London’s Metropolitan Police charged three individuals, including an official from the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, for helping the Hong Kong intelligence service to monitor overseas dissidents.

“I believe this is a form of revenge for the ‘Hong Kong espionage case’ incident, and it also clearly indicates that we, as democratic activists, have become political and diplomatic hostages,” Cheng told VOA.

The government has warned that anyone who provides money, leases property or co-owns a business with any of the six activists could face up to seven years in jail.

Being on Hong Kong’s wanted list has had minimal impact on the daily lives of the U.K.-based exiles, said Cheng.  Since being on the list, he said, the dissidents no longer rely on Hong Kong SAR passports but use alternate forms of documents when needed.

But, Cheng said, people and financial institutions may now have second thoughts when interacting with the six people described as “wanted criminals” who no longer have valid passports. 

Nathan Law wrote on his Facebook page that the government’s move was unnecessary since he was granted asylum in Britain in 2021. 

Law stated that in 2020, when he sought asylum in the U.K., he surrendered his SAR passport to the U.K.’s Home Office. After his asylum application was granted, Law did not take his passport back. 

The cancelation of the passports was based on the Safeguarding National Security Ordinance passed in March by the city’s legislature under Article 23 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the mini constitution that took effect when Britain handed the city back to China in 1997.   

The law covers treason, insurrection, espionage, theft of state secrets, foreign influence and interference and sabotage, including the use of computers and electronic systems to conduct acts that endanger national security.  

“You can cancel my passport, but you can never cancel my identity as a Hong Kong citizen,” said Christopher Mung, one of the six. “One day, we will reclaim what we rightfully deserve in a dignified manner.”

The Article 23 legislation expanded on a similar national security law imposed on the port city by China four years ago in response to massive pro-democracy demonstrations a year earlier. The national security law punished anyone in Hong Kong believed to be carrying out terrorism, separatism, subversion of state power or collusion with foreign forces.

Since the law took effect, hundreds of democracy advocates have been arrested, tried and jailed, and the city’s once-vibrant civil society has been stifled.  

VOA’s Cantonese service contributed to this report.

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