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Pro-democracy activist Tony Chung claims asylum in London after fleeing Hong Kong

Tony Chung, the popular former leader of the defunct pro-Hong Kong independence group StudentLocalism, posted a lengthy statement to Facebook explaining his decision to exile in Britain. File Photo by Alex Hofford/EPA-EFE
Tony Chung, the popular former leader of the defunct pro-Hong Kong independence group StudentLocalism, posted a lengthy statement to Facebook explaining his decision to exile in Britain. File Photo by Alex Hofford/EPA-EFE

Dec. 29 (UPI) -- A 22-year-old pro-democracy student activist fled Hong Kong more than a week ago and claimed asylum in Britain to escape rigorous supervision requirements imposed by Beijing following his release from prison in June.

Tony Chung, the popular former leader of the defunct pro-Hong Kong independence group StudentLocalism, posted a lengthy statement to Facebook explaining his decision to exile, saying his life was being controlled by constant surveillance after he served nearly four years in prison for violating the region's strict national security law.

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"Their demands effectively stripped me of financial autonomy, paving the way for the financial inducements later offered by the national security department of the Hong Kong police force," Chung wrote.

Chung, who was convicted of secession and money laundering in November 2021 after actively pushing for Hong Kong's independence from Beijing, claimed he was offered money to spy on other activists following his incarceration as the government sought to exploit his desperate financial state.

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Chung said he faced obstacles at every turn, including ruinous limitations on where he could safely work and make a living in Hong Kong, putting pressure on him to make a move.

"I feared stepping out of my home, feared using the phone in public, and worried about the possibility of being detained again by national security police officers on the streets," he said. "Every meeting with the national security police officers filled me with dread, fearing that they may accuse me of endangering national security and would demand me to prove my innocence."

On Friday, authorities at Hong Kong's correctional services department said they issued a warrant for Chung's arrest and that he would soon be added to a list of the region's most-wanted fugitives for violating the conditions of his release.

So far this year, Hong Kong authorities have issued bounties for 13 exiled activists, offering $1 million rewards for information that leads to their arrest.

Upon his release from prison last summer, Chung said he was given a set of conditions to follow, which forced him to check in regularly with Hong Kong's national security police and prohibited him from discussing his conviction or sharing any material that could potentially incite national security concerns.

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He was also told that he could not leave the territory for a full year without prior authorization.

After arriving in Britain, Chung gave an interview to The Guardian about his plight in which he complained that the "deep surveillance and immense pressure" by Hong Kong's national security police "disturbed my life, and I couldn't withstand such torture, both physically and mentally. So I felt that I had to leave Hong Kong."

Chung said he began to fake politeness to build trust with his handlers, which would sometimes result in relaxed efforts to keep tabs on him.

In recent months, the parole officers offered Chung a tour of mainland China to "learn about China's development."

"I knew that I had to go along with their thoughts to make them drop their guard, in order to get out of Hong Kong more easily," Chung said. "So I told them that China's development is quite nice these days."

However, the officers never followed up with him about it.

Earlier this month, Chung saw an opportunity when Hong Kong's correctional services department granted him permission to take a brief trip to Okinawa, Japan, provided that he confirmed a return fight to Hong Kong after Christmas.

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He traveled to Japan on Dec. 20, but a week later he stepped off a flight in London.

Chung arrived shortly after another pro-democracy activist, Agnes Chow, announced she had relocated to Canada and did not plan to return to Hong Kong in violation of her bail conditions.

Chung's political movement dissolved shortly before the national security law went into effect on June 30, 2020, while Chung became one of the first individuals to be detained under the act, which was imposed by Beijing to suppress ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

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