There have been calls in Taiwan for President Tsai Ing-wen to table an urgent refugee bill for protesters in Hong Kong who have been arrested and may face trial and imprisonment for “violent acts” in rallies over recent weeks against the hated extradition law changes.

Yang Sen-hong, chairperson of the Taiwan Association for China Human Rights and a prominent activist on the island, appealed to Tsai to start the legislative process for a new law to grant asylum to dissidents being targeted in Hong Kong and those already fleeing the city, now a Chinese special administrative region.

In an interview with Taiwanese papers, Yang said that by enacting a special law for Hong Kong protesters, Tsai could make it clear that Taiwan would never accept Beijing’s “one country, two systems” formula – currently in place in Hong Kong and Macau – being foisted on the self-ruled island.

Tsai has voiced support for Hongkongers in their defense of freedom and democracy on multiple occasions, via the official website of the Presidential Office, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

Meanwhile, lawmakers with the ruling Democratic Progressive Party have reportedly been drafting a refugee bill, and it may become a bipartisan piece of legislation as it moves toward an initial reading in the Legislative Yuan, with the endorsement of some lawmakers from the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang party, according to the Liberty Times and Taiwan’s Central News Agency.

Members of the DPP caucus as well as Minister of the Interior Hsu Kuo-yung have said the bill must be passed promptly.

Yang said there would be no more appropriate time than now and the entire process can be expedited if it is under the auspices of the president.

In Hong Kong, the police have already started a citywide hunt for vandals who defaced and rampaged through the city parliament on Monday July 1, the 22nd anniversary of the former British colony’s handover to Beijing. Further retaliation from the Hong Kong government and Beijing is also feared.

Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong, who became the face of defiance by the city’s young citizens during the 2014 Umbrella Movement demanding genuine voting rights, has also expressed hope that Taiwan will pass a refugee bill soon. Wong was released from jail last month.

Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong speaks to members of Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party via video last month. Photo: Handout
Police fire tear gas at protesters near the city’s parliament early on July 2 to regain control of the building after protesters defaced the assembly. Photo: AFP / Anthony Wallace

Tsai’s allegedly “slow” response on a refugee bill has dismayed Yang and others, who wonder if the president dreads further infuriating Beijing.

“They [Hong Kong youngsters] will continue protesting, but [we] have to think about their future and the price they will be made to pay. They have fought so hard, yet in Taiwan we cannot even pass a law that might shelter them,” Yang said.

Yang said the act would not mean opening the door to whoever wants to enter Taiwan. Once passed and promulgated by the president, the refugee law would only go into effect after detailed vetting measures were drawn up.

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