Exiled Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Nathan Law has called on Italy to raise concerns about the city’s “annihilated autonomy” under the Beijing-imposed national security law, as China’s foreign minister Wang Yi paid visit to Rome on Tuesday.

The former leader of the now-disbanded political group Demosisto handed a letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation before Italian foreign minister Luigi Di Maio met with his Chinese counterpart.

Nathan Law Italy Foreign Ministry
Hong Kong activist Nathan Law submits a letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation in Rome, Italy on August 25, 2020. Photo: Nathan Law, via Facebook.

In the letter, Law slammed the national security law as a “flagrant violation” of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration. He called on Italy to uphold its international agreements on human rights, and urged Di Maio to raise concerns over the issue of Hong Kong in his meeting with Wang.

“To ensure that Italy speaks up for the fundamental rights and freedoms which Hong Kong people were promised before the handover in 1997 and which are now being removed and threatened on a daily basis,” the former lawmaker wrote.

The Hong Kong activist was backed by 17 members of the Italian Parliament, who wrote a separate letter to Di Maio urging the country to voice support for Hong Kong’s freedom, autonomy and rule of law. They also called on the country to denounce what they saw as atrocious crimes against Uyghurs and other ethnic minority groups in China.

“We firmly stand with Nathan in his appeal to you,” the letter read.

Speaking to reporters in Rome, Law also urged the west to shun ties with Chinese technology firms including Huawei. He alleged that Chinese state enterprises may “infiltrate” democratic countries and endanger people’s privacy and national security.

“The most powerful authoritarian regime is posing threats to democracies, including using measures of infiltration, including using the influence of their state enterprise[s] like Huawei to [conduct spying] and information transfer,” he said.

The activist again urged the international community to “stand with Hong Kong” and support the struggle of Hongkongers: “With the newly-implemented national security law, our autonomy is completely annihilated and our democracy never arrived.”

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On July 2, Law announced that he had fled Hong Kong, two days after Beijing passed sweeping legislation that outlaws secession, subversion, collusion with foreign forces and interference with transport systems and other infrastructure. He later became one of the activists reportedly “wanted” by the Hong Kong police on suspicion of breaching the national security law, according to unconfirmed state media reports.

According to the Associated Press (AP), Di Maio said at a press conference that it was essential to preserve the high degree of autonomy and basic rights and freedoms of Hongkongers. Italy would be closely monitoring the implications of Beijing’s latest security measures in the city, he said.

“I reiterated that, together with all our European partners, we have emphasized that Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity, based on the one country, two systems principle, are essential,” the Italian foreign minister told the press according to AP’s report.

Responding to Di Maio’s remarks, Law said the Italian government had been “Beijing-friendly” in recent years and he did not expect to see a “180-degree change” in their stance. But the Hong Kong activist deemed it was a breakthrough for the issue of Hong Kong to be on the table of discussion between the two officials.

“This statement made by the Italian government on Hong Kong’s issues was already a major breakthrough, many friends in Italy who are concerned about China and Hong Kong were overjoyed,” Law said. “On this path of changing the world, there are still a long way to go. Even if it is full of risks and obstacles, we still have to face it patiently, until the day we succeed.”

According to Chinese state-run broadcaster CGTN, Di Maio told reporters that China was an “indispensable partner” in the world.

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.