Dozens of anti-extradition bill protesters who stormed Hong Kong’s Legislative Council complex in Admiralty on July 1 are reportedly seeking asylum in Taiwan.
The young protesters, many of them students, fled to Taiwan a few days after the demonstrations and have been offered temporary accommodations by some non-governmental organizations, Radio Free Asia reported.
However, a Taiwanese lawyer who declined to be named, said that the young protesters face difficulties in applying for formal political asylum as they are unable to prove that they were part of the group that vandalized LegCo because they were wearing masks to avoid detection at the time.
Also, their case for asylum is complicated by the fact that they left Hong Kong before being arrested.
Many of the students could face jail terms of at least five years if they are convicted of “rioting” in a Hong Kong court, based on the treatment of leaders of the 2014 Occupy Central pro-democracy movement.
Apple Daily said about 30 protesters fled to Taiwan and they are scattered in different parts of the country. Another 30 are planning to leave Hong Kong soon.
Some went to Taiwan to avoid trouble, using their own money and acting as tourists, while others were contemplating applying to study there instead of seeking asylum.
The newspaper quoted a middleman who assisted the protesters’ exit to Taiwan as saying they had already contacted the Mainland Affairs Council, a Taiwanese cabinet-level administrative agency under the Executive Yuan for assistance.
On Thursday, the council declined to confirm whether it is in contact with the protesters or how many are in the country.
The Council said if Taiwan receives applications from Hong Kong residents for political asylum, relevant government agencies will handle the cases in accordance with the law based on the principle of protecting human rights, the Central News Agency reported.
Taiwan’s government deals with the stay or residence of Hong Kong citizens in accordance with the Laws and Regulations Regarding Hong Kong and Macao Affairs, the council noted, adding that it will provide necessary assistance to Hong Kong citizens whose safety and freedom are threatened due to political factors.
All sectors in Taiwan support Hong Kong’s democracy, freedom and human rights, the council said.
Since June, two massive marches in Hong Kong have taken place against the government’s proposal to amend the extradition bill, which allows sending fugitives to mainland China. Four opponents of the bill have died during the turbulent opposition.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s failure to respond to protesters’ demands, led to more marches in various communities and clashes between police and protesters.
On July 1, the 22nd anniversary of the city’s handover, hundreds of protesters wearing helmets and facemasks, broke into the LegCo building. They rampaged through rooms, scrawled graffiti on walls, waved the colonial-era flag and covered the Hong Kong emblem with black ink.
Protesters said they hoped the radical act would lead the city chief executive to listen to their demands.
Leung Man-to, a political science student from Hong Kong who is currently studying at Taiwan National Cheng Kung University, said that some Hong Kong residents who had played a fairly up-front role in the protests had arrived in Taiwan in recent weeks, RFA reported.
Leung said it is difficult for Hong Kong residents to achieve long-term residency in Taiwan. The Taiwan government prefers instead to extend tourist visas, and applications for long-term status are made on a case-by-case basis.
Gary Cheung, who is currently in his first year of a bachelor’s degree at National Taiwan University of Arts, said he was among more than 80 people arrested and charged with “obstructing public servants in the course of their duty” during the final clearance of the Occupy Central protesters from Hong Kong’s Mong Kok district in 2014.
“Hong Kong people, including students of various kinds, have been coming to Taiwan for a while,” Cheung told RFA. “They may have been identified [by police], maybe they’ve been arrested, or maybe they haven’t yet, but they are all very worried.”
Cheung said that five years on, the police are taking a far more hard-line attitude to anti-extradition protesters.