Exiles in Hong Kong fear for their safety in the UK

In 2021, artists Lumley and Lumlong flee Hong Kong without telling anyone for fear of being reported and arrested. Even in London, the couple feels threatened by Beijing, like many other Hong Kongers in exile in the UK.

After suppressing the pro-democracy movement and Beijing imposing a strict national security law on the city, the British government has granted 166,000 entry visas to residents of its former colony since the start of 2021.

This allows them to live and work in the UK for five years and then apply for British citizenship.

However, it is reserved for holders of the “British Overseas Passport”, issued to Hong Kong residents who were born before the territory was handed over to China 26 years ago, on July 1, 1997.

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Among those who have taken refuge in the UK are this couple, both 43, who identify themselves by their stage names and keep paintings in their small London flat in which they depicted the violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations.

After an exhibition in Hong Kong in May 2021, “the Chinese Communist Party accused us of violating national security law (…) the police came to our studio to scare us,” Lum Long recalls. “Sooner or later, they were going to stop us,” adds his wife.

It took them two weeks to get the British visa. Once in London, they were relieved, and told their friends and family that they had left.

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“Even here, we’re not completely safe,” says Lumlong. “There are a lot of informants,” he says.

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In early June, the British government ordered China to close its secret “police stations” in the UK.

Beijing replied that it does not have any secret police station, but it does run centers that provide administrative services.

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The Organization for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders said in a report that these “police stations” in cities around the world are used to monitor dissidents.

This couple deplores the fact that pro-government Chinese journalists visited their galleries in London, after which he accuses Lumley and Lumlong of allying with “foreign forces”.

“A few days later, our Instagram and Facebook accounts were hacked. We lost our contacts,” says Lumley. Her husband denounced, “Our picture was replaced with the flag of the Islamic State jihadist organization, and they changed the name of the account.”

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“If the British government is not firm against the Chinese Communist Party,” he says, “we will never be safe.”

Hong Kong society was shocked in October by the beating of a protester at the Chinese Consulate in Manchester, northern England.

Video footage showed individuals leaving the consulate to smash protesters’ banners, and then a Hong Kong pro-democracy activist being dragged through the diplomatic compound and beaten. The Consul General himself was involved.

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The United Kingdom then called on Beijing to order the right to demonstrate on British soil, while China claimed that “troublemakers” had “illegally” entered the consulate premises.

Simon Cheng, founder of Britain’s Hong Kong Organization, accuses: “Our society is being subjected to cross-border oppression.”

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This former employee of the British Consulate in Hong Kong claims he was detained for 15 days and tortured by Chinese police in August 2019. He was later granted asylum in the UK.

He claims to have “sometimes the impression they’re following me, putting microphones on me, watching me”. He fears that the Chinese police will find a “way” to detain him and return him “to Hong Kong or China”. This gives him nightmares.

Instead, another AFP dissident described the peace and quiet of his new life, with his wife and son, in a small English town since 2020.

“We left because democracy was declining in Hong Kong,” he says. “We didn’t want that life for our son.” He finds a job very quickly, earns less but enough for them to live on. He does not regret leaving.

Here, the 40-year-old who participated in the 2019 protests says he feels safe.

“What happens in London or Manchester can’t happen here. And I don’t think there are many people from mainland China here,” he explains. However, he does not want his name to be revealed or his whereabouts determined.

Contacted by AFP, the Chinese embassy in the UK did not respond to a request for comment.

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