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25 years after the return of Hong Kong to China, Nathan Law denounces ‘the betrayal of Beijing’

25 years after the return of Hong Kong to China, Nathan Law denounces 'the betrayal of Beijing'

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This July 1, Hong Kong celebrates the 25th anniversary of the transfer of power: in 1997, the British colony returned to the Chinese fold. Since then, Hongkongers’ hopes of preserving their autonomy and way of life for another 50 years have faded. The life that best reflects the turmoil of Hong Kongers is that of Nathan Law.

By Heike Schmidt

Former student leader and leader of the “Umbrella Revolt” in 2014, Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Nathan Law is now wanted by Beijing. He faces decades in prison. RFI met with the Hong Kong dissident during his first visit to France.

RFI: Does this 25th anniversary of the transfer have a bitter taste for you?

Law: The Beijing government has betrayed the people of Hong Kong. At the time of the handover, in 1997, China promised them autonomy, freedom and democracy. But 25 years later, none of these promises have been fulfilled. They have not been preserved. So we are fighting for these promises to be fulfilled, because Hongkongers deserve it.

Five years ago, on the 20th anniversary of the handover, the pro-democracy movement was still in full swing, and you, as a student leader, were elected as the youngest member of the Hong Kong Parliament. Today, everything has changed: his opposition party “Demosisto” has been dissolved, his friends are in prison, he has had to cut all ties with his family, because he is a fugitive wanted by Beijing…

My life has turned around. In 2016, I was elected to the Legislative Council, I was then 23 years old. But Beijing intervened and persecuted me. So I was deposed in 2017 and jailed for my involvement in the Umbrella Revolution. Following the passage of the National Security Law in 2020, which criminalizes freedom of expression, I was forced to flee Hong Kong. Today I am a political refugee living in exile in London. My life mirrors that of Hong Kong. Hong Kong is no longer the place where diverse political opinions can be expressed. It is just another Chinese city.

A Chinese city like many others where demonstrations are not allowed?

Beijing wants to send a very clear message. China claims that the enactment of the National Security Law and the crackdown on demonstrations have brought stability to Hong Kong and people are living happily. Obviously, this is not the case. People don’t raise their voices anymore because it’s forbidden. If they do, they will be jailed for years. Beijing wants to further control and muzzle civil society. So the anniversary of the transfer is obviously a sad day for us. A person who believes in democracy cannot celebrate this day with the government. Only dictators will celebrate this anniversary.

Some of Hong Kong’s history will be erased from the new textbooks, including the word “British colony.” How is this explained?

Beijing wants to distort history to legitimize the repression. Given all the lies from China, this is not surprising, but we have an obligation to say that it is not true. We do not boast of having been a British colony, but it is a fact. We cannot deny it for political ends. Children will learn these lies at school, spread in textbooks. This is also why many Hongkongers have left the city.

120,000 Hong Kongers have already chosen to live elsewhere. How can Western countries support those who want to stay and what attitude towards China do you expect from the international community?

Sanctions are one way to apply pressure, but not the only one. We must also develop mechanisms to protect our democracies. An example: we all agree that it was a mistake to become so dependent on Russian energy. Russia has used this dependency to make us more vulnerable. But our dependence on China is much greater. We have opened our doors to the Chinese and they have taken the opportunity to invade us with their propaganda, promote their dictatorship and discredit our democracies. China will use every possible means to infiltrate and attack our system. Our politicians should take this into account.

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Written by Editor TLN

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