Ex-British consulate staffer in Hong Kong Simon Cheng on Wednesday revealed the UK has granted him asylum, following the promulgation of the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Cheng told reporters via video that the UK Home Office had come to the decision after two rounds of “rigorous and meticulous” interviews. He submitted an asylum claim on December 27 last year. The status was simultaneously granted to his fiancee as his dependent and included five years of residency, after which he may apply for permanent citizenship.

Simon Cheng Man-kit. Photo: Facebook.

“I would say this decision clearly illustrates that the UK government recognises and acknowledges that the whole case had been politically motivated,” he said. “The charge… is [a] political persecution based on my job [and] my political opinion.”

Chinese authorities last August detained the former trade and investment officer for 15 days as he attempted to return from a business event in Shenzhen. State-owned tabloid Global Times alleged he was arrested for soliciting a prostitute. He later claimed he was tortured during interrogation.

Cheng said the decision was made prior to the enactment of the new law on Wednesday, which could indicate a change in Downing Street’s attitude towards Beijing: “I believe that’s the UK government’s stance to make a U-turn…[on] China.”

“I think they are slightly losing confidence [in] One Country, Two Systems, and slightly losing confidence that the Chinese authorities can comply with the international treaty and is cooperative with partners around the world.”

Photo: May James/HKFP.

On Tuesday, China’s rubber-stamp parliament unanimously passed legislation criminalising subversion, secession, foreign interference and terrorism in Hong Kong, without local legislative oversight.

In an earlier phone interview with HKFP, Cheng said the law has caused many Hongkongers to fear for their safety and consider emigrating.

He said he hoped his case – as the first British National (Overseas) passport holder to have been granted political asylum in the UK after the 1997 handover – could set a precedent for other Hongkongers seeking humanitarian protection.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on the same day that more than three million BN(O) passport holders born before the handover and their dependants – including children under the age of 18 – would be granted five years of residency in the country.

Boris Johnson. File phone: Andrew Parsons/Number 10 Downing Street.

“We made [it] clear that if China continued down this path we would introduce a new route for those with British National (Overseas) status to enter the UK, granting them limited leave to remain with the ability to live and work in the UK and thereafter to apply for citizenship. And that is precisely what we will do now,” he said.

Advice platform for asylum-seeking Hongkongers

Cheng alongside exiled activists Ray Wong, Brian Leung and Lam Wing-kee have also announced the founding of an online platform advising Hongkongers looking to leave the city due to the political crisis.

First reported in Apple Daily, “Haven Assistance” aims to provide case-by-case immigration or asylum claim advice to Hongkongers and refer them to various countries’ organisations. They said they would also team up with pro-bono lawyers and professionals to provide mental support.

He told HKFP that he and the three activists wished to call international attention to Hong Kong whilst exploring the possibility of devising “lifeboat” immigration schemes with other countries.

National Security Law banner on bus. Photo: Rhoda Kwan/HKFP

Clause 38 of the national security law states that the law applies to offences committed outside Hong Kong and covers non-permanent residents.

Former chief executive CY Leung has offered a bounty of up to HK$1 million in return for information about anyone – in Hong Kong or overseas – who has violated the new law.

Cheng later wrote on Facebook: “Leaving means not an end but a beginning. We will continue the fight against the expanding totalitarianism, and [return] back to our hometown with true democracy and freedom.”

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Rachel Wong

Rachel Wong previously worked as a documentary producer and academic researcher. She has a BA in Comparative Literature and European Studies from the University of Hong Kong. She has contributed to A City Made by People and The Funambulist, and has an interest in cultural journalism and gender issues.