Nathan Law, one of Hong Kong’s leading democracy campaigners, has left the city, as protestors and other residents weigh up their future and wait for Britain to lay out details of its offer of a path to citizenship.
Law said on social media that he had left Hong Kong for an undisclosed location because he faced “unknown dangers”, after China brought in a sweeping national security law for the city that criminalises much of the protest movement.
“After I spoke at the [US Congress] hearing and told the international community about the real human rights situation in Hong Kong after the draconian law took effect, I have plunged myself into unknown dangers,” he said in a statement on Facebook. “Now we have to think of how to continue our front line and to keep the flame alive under the most violent suppression.”
The implications of the law, which was not made public until it came into effect this week, are still being digested in Hong Kong and among citizens abroad. Many who were part of the protest movements or who fear what the future will be like under closer Chinese control are already weighing up offers from the UK and other countries.
“I love Hong Kong … [but] have this irrational fear that I have to be silent now as I can be arrested for no reason,” said one citizen in her 20s, who is in the UK on a visa that expires soon and is wondering whether to return.
Nearly 3 million city residents who hold British national overseas status (BNO) have been promised the right to settle in the UK by Boris Johnson and are waiting for details on the scheme.
“I’m stuck between moving back to Hong Kong or waiting for updated information regarding the new plans for BNO holders,” the woman said. “I am worried that if I have to go back to Hong Kong, I won’t be allowed to come back to the UK.”
The US has also proposed specific refugee assistance, and Australia has flagged an imminent announcement, while Taiwan has set up an office to assist fleeing Hong Kongers and said it had already received more than 180 enquiries. Taipei also updated its travel advicem warning people against unnecessary travel through Hong Kong.
Law, who at 24 is part of a generation of young activists who re-energised the city’s battle for democracy over the last decade, said he had moved overseas so he could safely continue his battle for Hong Kong’s future there.
“After this farewell, I don’t know when I’ll ever return. I’ll never forget the sparkling scene of Hong Kong from the plane,” he said.
Joshua Wong, Law’s colleague at the political group Demosisto, which was disbanded hours before the national security law took effect, said on Facebook: “Thank you, Nathan. It’s not an easy decision.”
When contacted by the Guardian, Wong refused to say whether he was also considering leaving, although he cannot travel at present because he is on bail pending a court case. Wong was helping a politician distribute flyers on Thursday evening.