China’s foreign ministry has called on Germany to “respect Hong Kong’s rule of law and independent judiciary” after the country granted refugee status to two wanted pro-independence activists.

Ray Wong and Alan Li, who were leading members of the pro-independence group Hong Kong Indigenous, faced rioting charges related to the 2016 Mong Kok unrest. They fled the city in November 2017 ahead of their trials, and were granted refugee status in Germany last May.

Li Tung-sing Ray Wong
Alan Li Tung-sing (left) and Ray Wong. File Photo: Stand News/Cloud.

The office of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in Hong Kong issued a statement on Thursday expressing concern: “We call on [Germany] to uphold international laws and the basic principles of international relations, and respect the rule of law and independent judiciary of Hong Kong.”

“It must not tolerate criminals and must not interfere in Hong Kong and China’s internal affairs.”

The statement was echoed in Beijing by MFA spokesperson Lu Kang, who added that Hongkongers’ rights and freedoms are protected by law, and the One Country, Two Systems principle has been fully implemented since the 1997 Handover.

lu kang foreign ministry
Lu Kang, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson. File Photo: GovCN.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam has not yet responded to the incident yet, though she has reportedly cancelled an official trip to Germany originally scheduled for late June.

When pressed for answers, her security and justice ministers did not say whether Hong Kong would seek to extradite Wong and Li.

‘Gradual erosion of freedom’

The German foreign ministry said on Wednesday that it was “increasingly concerned about the diminishing space for the political opposition and a gradual erosion of freedom of opinion and the press, particularly in connection with sensitive political issues.”

However, the ministry also said the human rights situation in the city was “good as a whole,” and did not refer specifically to Wong and Li’s cases.

The Financial Times reported on Friday that Chinese diplomats in Germany had tried to “directly intervene” to prevent the duo from being granted asylum. In return, Berlin refused to share information with Beijing about the pair’s asylum applications.

‘They are fugitives’

Pro-Beijing lawmakers have ramped up their criticism of Germany, saying that the country was “misled” to believe the two men were refugees.

The Federation of Trade Unions (FTU) led around 20 people in a protest at the German consulate, with FTU lawmaker Michael Luk handing a letter to Deputy Consul-General David Schmidt.

The Federation of Trade Unions hand a letter to the German consulate.
The Federation of Trade Unions hand a letter to the German consulate. Photo: FTU, via Facebook.

“Please respect our justice system. [Li and Wong]… are not refugees, they are fugitives, because they are involved in the riot in 2016. It made many people injured, we have many many factual evidence [sic],” Luk said.

The duo are set to appear at a commemorative event for the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, which will be held at the German parliament on June 4.

Wong told the foreign press that he has softened his political stance and no longer advocated Hong Kong independence, instead he wanted to draw attention to the human rights situation in the city.

“There are now too many uncertainties for the Hong Kong independence movement. The suppression is too strong,” he told the Financial Times.

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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.