A Hong Kong localist on the run in Taiwan has allegedly resurfaced to speak on an online talk show, drawing the attention of local authorities.

Activist Lee Sin-yi fled to Taiwan in January 2017, ahead of a court date related to her participation in the Mong Kok unrest the year before. She has not been heard from since August 2017, when she released a recording explaining why she chose exile.

On Tuesday evening, a new recording allegedly from Lee was broadcast on a YouTube show hosted by Chen Yi-chi, the chairperson of the pro-independence Taiwan Statebuilding Party.

“I chose to speak up now to remind my friends in Hong Kong that – with Lam Wing-kee’s exile – we can expect more people to go into exile in the future,” Lee said, referring to the decision last month by the bookseller to leave Hong Kong for Taiwan.

Lee said that her fears about Hong Kong have come true over the past two years, with the city’s rule of law being threatened by China. She said that the latest extradition plan proposed by the Hong Kong government would offer a “facade of legitimacy” for China to crack down on dissidents.

“The people of Hong Kong and Taiwan cannot afford to continue to be naive, we must be more aware of the crisis posed by China’s regime,” she added.

Hong Kong localist Lee Sin-yi. Photo: handout.

In the recording, Lee also called on the people of Taiwan to be wary of China’s influence, and that it may follow the path of Hong Kong if pro-Beijing politicians triumph in the island-wide elections next year.

”Letter allegedly from Hong Kong localist Lee Sin-yi (translated by HKFP) – Click to view“

I am Lee Sin-yi, exiled from Hong Kong since January 2017. In August of that year, I released a recording and a statement, and their contents have been proven true one by one.

Did the Chinese Communist Party use the judicial system as a means to suppress Hong Kong’s social movement? Was the trial over the Mong Kok unrest Hong Kong’s version of the Meilidao Incident? Clearly, there is nothing left of Hong Kong’s rule of law.

Now even Lam Wing-kee, who ran a legal bookstore in Hong Kong, is forced to go into exile in Taiwan. The people of Hong Kong and Taiwan cannot afford to continue to be naive, we must be more aware of the crisis posed by China’s regime.

The degradation of Hong Kong’s rule of law did not start with the government’s proposal to amend the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance. The Causeway Bay Books incident already showed that five people can be taken to China to be judged under murky circumstances, and the Hong Kong government did not speak up or support Hongkongers. Now China just wants a facade of legitimacy to legally crack down on Hong Kong’s dissidents – China’s bottom line is pushed further and further, and Hongkongers are driven back bit by bit. After the trial of the Mong Kok unrest is the trial of the Umbrella Movement. After Hong Kong independence advocates are eradicated, it will be the pan-democrats next.

Who will be the ones to suffer after that? Would it be the Hongkongers who society defines as “law abiding citizens”? The Uyghurs of Xinjiang are facing suppression – shouldn’t we work hard to prevent the same thing from happening to us or our next generation?

I am worried about Hong Kong’s future, and Taiwan’s situation is also not optimistic. If pro-Beijing politicians are elected in Taiwan’s election next year, Taiwan may follow the path of Hong Kong. I chose to speak up now to remind my friends in Hong Kong that – with Lam Wing-kee’s exile – we can expect more people to go into exile in the future, such as those who were on Macau’s immigration blacklist for participating in the Umbrella Movement, journalists who have reported on scandals in China, teachers who taught the importance of democracy. We should learn from Taiwan’s history of White Terror: overseas Taiwanese people have linked up and helped each other, with the goal of returning home one day after authoritarianism ended.

Lastly, I hope that my Hong Kong friends can share their experience with the people in Taiwan who just want to live good lives, to let them know the terrible nature of China’s regime. Otherwise, Taiwan’s democratic society will become the next tragedy of China’s hegemony. We once believed in the attractive story of One Country, Two Systems, so we should remind the Taiwanese people to pay attention to the true nature of a political party, and to distrust the politicians who claim not to support One Country, Two Systems but nevertheless put China’s interests first. Every time we underestimate the existential threat of China, we have to bear the consequences of inaction and we force our next generation to resist.

Taiwan’s National Immigration Agency confirmed to news outlet Central News Agency that Lee’s visa had expired. Lee entered the island on January 6, 2017 and was permitted to stay for 30 days, but there is no record of her leaving, authorities said.

Lee’s current whereabouts are unknown and the immigration body has stepped up its efforts to locate her, CNA reported.

Chen Yi-chi and Lam Wing-kee. Photo: Youtube screenshot.

Programme host Chen also said he did not know where Lee was, and that he received the recording via a mailed USB memory stick, which also came with a printed transcript including Lee’s signature.

The immigration authority added that there was no record of Lee asking for political asylum in Taiwan – though such a request could not be entertained in any case, since the island does not have a law on asylum. Any Hong Kong resident who overstays in Taiwan may be fined up to HK$2,500 and be banned from returning for up to three years.

Bookseller makes appearance

Bookseller Lam Wing-kee, who Lee referred to in her recording, also appeared on the hour-long YouTube program on Tuesday. Lam was the founder of Causeway Bay Books, and went missing from Shenzhen in October 2015, only to re-emerge on a Chinese television channel months later “confessing” to crimes.

Lam Wing-kee. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

“I hope that she can live a normal life, even if she has to leave Taiwan,” said Lam, who broke down in tears after Lee’s recording was played. “I am also the father of two children, if one of my children were in her situation, I’d be devastated.”

Lam had previously been criticised for urging Lee to return to Hong Kong to face trial. Lam admitted last month that he was wrong at the time, and that recent events have shown that Hong Kong courts would not treat activists fairly.

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Holmes Chan

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.