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Hong Kong activist granted political asylum by Sweden in security law first for EU

·4 min read

Sweden has granted political asylum to a Hong Kong journalist and activist, ruling that he would otherwise "risk arrest" in the city for activities that would be "considered in breach of the national security law".

The Swedish Migration Agency made the ruling in April, but Narayan Liu, who was born in Taiwan but raised in Hong Kong, is now going public with the news - having received his residency documents this month.

It is believed to be the first asylum award for a Hongkonger in the European Union to explicitly cite the national security law, which Beijing rolled out in June 2020.

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"When returning to Hong Kong, you risk arrest as the activities you have undertaken would be considered in breach of the national security law," read a 10-page award, seen by the South China Morning Post.

The news was first reported by Kinamedia, a Swedish online news outlet.

Swedish authorities judged that Liu's overseas campaigning for Hong Kong's democracy movement would be considered a breach of the law, which has seen more than 180 political opponents, journalists and activists jailed in the city in the past two years.

Liu, who has lived in Sweden since 2013, founded a number of campaign groups including Bauhinias for Freedom and Free Hong Kong, and served as president of Befria Hong Kong, another pressure group.

The authorities cited the law's assertion that "incitement to separatism, subversion, terrorism and collusion with protagonists is punishable".

They pointed to the fact that Liu had "collaborated with high profile speakers and ... [has] received media exposure both in Sweden and Hong Kong".

"The Migration Board therefore considers that if you return to Hong Kong you risk persecution because of your political views," read the note, adding that "the law is also applicable extraterritorially, which would include the activities you have carried out in Sweden".

There have been isolated cases of Hong Kong people receiving political asylum elsewhere in the EU, but none are thought to have cited the security law.

In May, a Hong Kong woman referred to by the pseudonym "Kathrin" was granted refugee status in Germany, but the authorities there did not provide detailed rationale behind their verdict.

"Since the refugee definition is fairly standard internationally, then these could all be precedents," said Mark Daly, a human rights lawyer who has worked on asylum cases in Hong Kong since 1995.

"Having practised and taught refugee law in Hong Kong for about 27 years I would have never thought, and it is disappointing, that Hong Kong has become a refugee-producing jurisdiction, where persons are persecuted for political views," Daly added.

Liu said he was "surprised" that the ruling had referred to the national security law in detail. He said he had since been inundated with congratulations from other Hong Kong campaigners, and "hopes that it shows others can do this too".

Those leaving Hong Kong in the wake of Beijing's crackdown on opposition politicians, media and activists have typically found refuge in English-speaking countries, including Australia, Britain and Canada.

The EU has no lifeboat scheme to support Hongkongers, and talks of creating one have dried up since last spring, when the bloc's foreign ministers failed to agree on a series of Hong Kong-focused measures, including support for migrants.

The EU plans to send civil servants to a gala reception in Brussels to celebrate the 25th year since the handover of Hong Kong from British rule to Chinese on June 30.

This date also marks the second anniversary of the national security law, but an EU spokesperson said that attendance does not equate to support for the Hong Kong government's policies.

"The EU has been critical of the deterioration of the situation in Hong Kong and has expressed publicly and privately its position on the dismantling of the 'one country, two systems' which was guaranteed by Hong Kong's Basic Law," said foreign affairs spokeswoman Nabila Massrali.

Ray Wong, one of the first overseas activists wanted by the Hong Kong authorities under the security law, said he hoped the Swedish terminology would convince other European governments that "Hong Kong is no longer safe for Hongkongers".

In response to the Hong Kong government's efforts to extradite Wong, the German government - which granted him asylum in 2018 - suspended its extradition treaty with the city.

Eva Pils, a professor at King's College London specialising in human rights, law, and society in China, said the mounting arrests in Hong Kong will "sadly strengthen the case for asylum to be given to those who get out".

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2022. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.