Two Hong Kong pro-democracy activists wanted in connection with a 2016 riot have been granted refugee status in Germany, a telling development amid widespread fears over Beijing’s growing influence in the ostensibly autonomous financial hub.
Though Hong Kong has long been seen as having one of the most respected judiciaries in Asia, Germany’s decision to grant asylum to Ray Wong and Alan Li, first reported by the New York Times, indicates that the world’s estimation of Hong Kong’s independent institutions is beginning to change.
As Wong himself put it: “If the German government thinks that the Hong Kong judiciary is independent, they would not grant me refugee status.”
The two men are wanted for their involvement in the so-called “Fishball Revolution,” which took place in February of 2016 after the government decided to crack down on unlicensed food hawkers in Mong Kok during the Lunar New Year. The clampdown prompted pro-democracy activists to gather around the hawkers to prevent officials from clearing them out, with the situation quickly devolving into some of the worst civil unrest the city has seen.
The pair fled Hong Kong in 2017 and were granted refugee status last May, but only publicly acknowledged it recently. The Times report highlights the uniqueness of their situation, noting that they may be the first Hongkongers to have been granted political asylum.
Under the “one country, two systems” policy, Hong Kong enjoys civil liberties unheard of on the mainland, and its court system is a far cry from China’s. However, with the recent prosecution of pro-democracy activists, the introduction of a controversial law criminalizing disrespect of China’s national anthem, and, perhaps most worryingly, a proposal to allow, for the first time since the handover, extraditions from Hong Kong to the mainland, many are coming around to the view that the city’s days as bastion of rule of law and relative freedom are numbered.
Human Rights Watch senior China researcher Maya Wang told Coconuts HK today that Germany’s decision to grant the pair asylum was reflective of the increasingly dim view of Hong Kong’s special status.
“I think there is considerable concern about Hong Kong’s rule of law and the freedoms enjoyed by residents here…and I think Germany has been very clear-eyed about human rights abuses under China,” she said, going on to note the historical importance of Hong Kong to China as a whole.
“I think a lot of people hoped China would see the importance of the city, but I think these hopes have been dashed,” she continued. “President Xi [Jinping] seems to see repression as the answer to all things in China.”