By Jessie Pang
HONGKONG (Reuters) – Germany has granted refugee status to two Hong Kong activists facing charges at home, one of them said on Wednesday, in what is apparently the first time Germany has acknowledged such status for democracy campaigners from the Chinese-ruled city.
Ray Wong, 25, and Alan Li, 27, were granted refugees status in Germany in May 2018, Wong told Reuters in a telephone interview from Germany. He was able to show a document setting out that status,
“Now Hong Kong also has political refugees,” Wong said.
A city government spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
The German consulate in Hong Kong said it was aware that the two Hong Kong residents were staying in Germany, although it could not provide details on individual cases, nor confirm whether the pair had been granted refugee protection.
Wong, a former member of independence group Hong Kong Indigenous, and Li were charged for a rioting offence linked to a protest that turned violent in February 2016. The pair later skipped bail and fled to Germany in 2017.
Hong Kong activists campaigning for great democracy have become increasingly defiant in recent years amid growing fears of creeping interference from Beijing despite a promise of special autonomy.
Scores of activists have been jailed on various charges including contempt of court and public nuisance, with critics saying Hong Kong authorities were prosecuting activists to deter protests and stifle freedom of expression and assembly.
Hong Kong authorities deny persecuting activists.
In April, a city court jailed four leaders of a 2014 “Occupy” pro-democracy civil disobedience movement, while young democracy leader Joshua Wong was jailed for two months this month.
Wong said he was speaking up because he wanted to raise awareness about a proposed extradition law that will extend Beijing’s powers over the financial hub and has stoked criticism both within the city and from abroad.
“The expansion of China is significant and I hope to use my case to say, ‘please pay attention to the expansion of China’,” he said.
Wong said freedoms in Hong Kong had been destroyed by the Chinese authorities and Hong Kong governments since the city was handed back from British rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” deal promising autonomy.
The proposed extradition law would allow people in the city accused of a crime, including foreigners, to be extradited to countries without formal extradition agreements, including mainland China.
Hong Kong authorities have stressed the extradition law would not be used to prosecute political crimes, but Wong said he feared it could be used to suppress the pro-democracy movement, as Beijing could extradite activists to China.
Wong said he lived in refugee camps in Germany for more than 10 months until August last year.
“I lived in three different refugee camps and the last one was a big one in the middle of nowhere,” Wong said.
The activist, who said he now believes it’s more important to focus on human rights rather than to push for Hong Kong’s independence from China, said he was learning German and hoped to study philosophy once he passes his language exams.
He said it was important to raise awareness of Hong Kong’s plight internationally.
“It’s necessary for Hong Kong people to speak up for Hong Kong,” he said.
(Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by James Pomfret and Robert Birsel)