Exclusive: Law said he chose UK in hope of ‘sounding an alarm’ over threats to democracy in Europe from China
The Hong Kong activist Nathan Law has applied for asylum in the UK, six months after fleeing his home on the eve of the national security law coming into force.
Law revealed in an opinion article for the Guardian on Monday that he had submitted a refugee claim to the UK government. He said he had chosen Britain in the hope he could “sound an alarm” over threats to democracy in Europe from the Chinese Communist party.
“For a long time too many laboured under the fantasy that China would be a strategic partner with the west, perhaps even one part of the democratic world,” he said.
“The process of awakening from this illusion takes time. In the US, adopting an assertive approach to China and positioning it as one of the country’s greatest enemies is a bipartisan consensus now. This is not the case in the UK and EU; that consensus needs to be built.”
There is increasing wariness in Europe over Beijing’s expansionism, and the vulnerability of European nations – which have strong trade ties – and institutional sectors, such as education, to Chinese influence.
Nathan Law: ‘No one knows when I can go back to Hong Kong’.
Law, a high-profile pro-democracy activist and former politician, fled Hong Kong in late June, shortly before the introduction of the national security law, but did not reveal he had gone to the UK until some weeks later. He told followers on social media at the time he had left because he faced “unknown dangers” under the new law and because he had spoken to the US Congress about the crisis in Hong Kong.
“The departure of a prominent activist signalled that something very wrong had happened in the city,” he said. “My story was broadcast globally, raising awareness about Hong Kong’s plight.”
He first gained notoriety during the ”umbrella movement” protests in 2014, which called for universal suffrage for Hongkongers. After the protests, Law, Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow formed the political party Demosisto. Four candidates including Law won seats but were later disqualified.
The trio were prominent voices of the protest movement in 2019, when millions marched against a proposed extradition bill before it broadened into a wider pro-democracy movement with months of protests drawing a brutal crackdown by authorities.
I left Hong Kong for London so I could tell Britain the truth about ChinaNathan Law.
Law, Wong and Chow were frequent targets for arrest and accusations of seeking foreign influence. Upon the implementation of the national security law on 30 June, the party was disbanded. Wong and Chow have since been jailed over protest-related offences.
In October, a Hong Kong judge issued arrest warrants for Law and fellow activist Sunny Cheung – who has also left Hong Kong – after they failed to appear before the court. They were among several activists charged over an unauthorised assembly when people defied pandemic gathering bans to commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre.
The crackdown has drawn serious rebuke and sanctions from governments including the US and the UK, which has also expanded an immigration pathway for millions of eligible Hongkongers to resettle there.
Law said he had been welcomed in the UK, where he was allowed to “speak freely”, with his voice amplified by parliamentarians and media.
“With the effort of my friends and colleagues both in the UK and in Hong Kong, a stronger force for human rights and freedom will be forged,” he said.
“No matter what hurdles we face, as Hongkongers, we will never surrender.”