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Exclusive: Hong Kong activists discuss “Parliament in exile” after China’s crackdown

LONDON (Reuters) – Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong are discussing a plan to create an unofficial parliamentary exile to keep democracy alive and send a message to China that freedom cannot be crushed, campaigner Simon Cheng told Reuters.

Simon Cheng, a former employee of the British Consulate, poses for a photograph in London, UK, July 2, 2020. REUTERS / Hannah McKay

Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1

997, was cramped by months of often violent pro-democracy, anti-China protests last year against Chinese involvement in its promised freedoms, the biggest political crisis for Beijing since the Tiananmen Square protests from 1989.

Hong Kong police fired water cannons and tear gas, arresting more than 300 people on Wednesday as protesters took to the streets in violation of new sweeping security legislation introduced by China to sniff out dissent.

The law drives China’s freest city and one of the world’s most glittering financial hubs to a more authoritarian path. China, which refuses to interfere in Hong Kong, has warned foreign powers not to interfere in its affairs.

Cheng, a Hong Kong national, worked for the British consulate in the territory for nearly two years until he fled after he said he was beaten and tortured by China’s secret police. Cheng, who has since been granted asylum by Britain, describes himself as a democratic campaign.

“A shadow parliament can send a very clear signal to Beijing and the Hong Kong authorities that democracy does not have to be Pingy’s grace,” he told Reuters in London. “We want to set up non-official civic groups that surely reflect the people of Hong Kong.”

He said that while the idea was still at an early stage, such an exile parliament would support the people of Hong Kong and the pro-democracy movement there. He declined to say where Parliament can sit.

“We are developing an alternative way to fight for democracy,” Cheng said. “We have to be smart to deal with the growing totalitarianism: they show more powerful muscles to suppress so we have to be more subtle and agile.”

He said that more and more “lost hope that it is effective to go out on the streets or run for election” to the Hong Kong Legislative Council or the mini-parliament.

“We should stand with the Hong Kong people and support those living in Hong Kong,” he said.


Asked about HSBC’s (HSBA.L) support for the sweeping National Security Act, Cheng said that the British government should talk to older British capitalists to make them understand the importance of democracy.

After Prime Minister Boris Johnson offered millions of Hong Kong residents the path to British citizenship following China’s introduction of the law, hundreds of thousands of people would come to the UK, Cheng said.

“The UK has given a very good signal,” Cheng said. “At least hundreds of thousands of people are coming.”

Nearly 3 million Hong Kong residents are eligible for the so-called British National (Overseas) passport. There were 349,881 holders of passports from February, the UK said.

“One day we will be back in Hong Kong,” Cheng said.

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Hong Kong returned to China 23 years ago, guaranteeing freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including its independent legal system and rights to gather and protest, according to a “one country, two systems” formula.

Huge protests that demanded democracy, especially on the Tiananmen anniversaries, June 4, 1989, were commonplace and led major streets to silence for 79 days in the 2014 umbrella movement.

The National Security Act penalizes crimes of segregation, subversion, terrorism and collaboration with foreign forces with up to life in prison, will see property security agencies in Hong Kong for the first time and allow extradition to the mainland for trial.

Reporting by Natalie Thomas, Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Stephen Addison

Our standards:Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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