The Dominion Post

Thousands flee city amid surge in terror charges

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Early last week, Michael Mo nervously set off with just two suitcases to Hong Kong’s airport.

Fearing imminent arrest for his prodemocra­cy political views under Beijing’s sweeping National Security Law, the 35-year-old local politician had taken a snap decision to leave home forever and flee to London.

He had altered his hairstyle and removed his glasses to disguise his regular appearance, but he was still on alert for plaincloth­es police officers right up until his flight took off.

When he landed in Heathrow, Mo claimed political asylum.

The catalyst was a loyalty pledge deadline later this month that aims to weed out office holders with ‘‘unpatrioti­c’’ views. Those judged not loyal enough to the government could be ousted and forced to repay months of salary.

Whether he took it or not, he was worried that, as with so many other people in the city’s fast-disappeari­ng opposition movement, his past protest activities or his political beliefs would be used against him – and could land him in jail.

More than 200 pro-democracy councillor­s elected following the 2019 protests have resigned ahead of an

expected purge.

‘‘The most frightenin­g fact is that they can get you in national security law-related investigat­ions at all times,’’ he told The Telegraph from the London hotel where he is currently selfisolat­ing.

‘‘They might go after me at any point . . . for something I did in the past long before the law. They could just make an excuse to arrest me and bar me from leaving.’’

Mo is among thousands of Hong Kongers fleeing into exile as Beijing’s crackdown on the city’s once vibrant pro-democracy movement expands beyond its ringleader­s to include ordinary people, including via terrorism charges.

In 2019, the city had politician­s who challenged the government, elections that could throw up surprises, a newspaper that criticised Beijing, and regular mass protests demanding reforms and accountabi­lity.

But since China foisted its draconian national security law on the city on June 30, 2020, sweeping provisions outlawing subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign collusion have permeated every level of society with the fear of crossing its vaguely defined red lines.

Lawyers have warned a new immigratio­n law set to come in on August 1 could allow authoritie­s to bar anyone from leaving the city. Despite government denials, people are voting with their feet.

Net outflows from the city exceeded 1000 people per day for most of this month, according to government figures compiled by activist investor David Webb.

It is not clear how many of those are permanent emigrants and there is no public data available.

But as a snapshot, more than 34,000 Hong Kongers applied for UK visas in the first three months of this year, after a new British National (Overseas) citizenshi­p pathway was opened up to help those being persecuted.

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Michael Mo

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