Former pro-democracy legislative councillor Ted Hui, who faces a range of charges stemming from last year’s protests, says he sought exile in Britain for the sake of his family and because he can better speak out for Hong Kong while overseas.

In an interview with HKFP, Hui discussed his decision to leave Hong Kong, as well as his plans to continue advocating for the city’s rights in the international arena.

Ted Hui Chi-fung. File photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

Hui announced his self-imposed exile in early December. The former lawmaker said that all this year he had “fleeting thoughts” of leaving but made his mind up only in late November.

“I made the final decision at a very late stage, in late November. However, going into 2020, with the implementation of the national security law and the debate around whether to stay in the Legislative Council for the extended term, I had more fleeting thoughts of whether I could serve Hong Kong better if I leave,” Hui said.

Hui, 38, was one of those pro-democracy members who advocated staying in the Legislative Council for an extended year after the government announced the postponement of LegCo elections scheduled for September, citing coronavirus concerns.

He resigned two months later, along with 14 fellow democrats, after four other democratic lawmakers were disqualified by the government for allegedly endangering national security and violating their oaths to uphold the Basic Law.

Hui said the disqualification of four of his colleagues and his own departure made him consider leaving the city more seriously but he struggled until the very last moment.

“My main consideration is that I can do more for Hong Kong [overseas] ,” Hui explained. “In 2019 I was on the streets with the public, in 2020 I fought more in the legislature, bringing me plenty of criminal charges.”

Fifteen Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmakers announce to collectively resign after Beijing passed a decision giving the local authorities powers to oust four democrats with immediate effect. Photo: Democratic Party.

“In September, I still thought I could use the council as leverage to bargain with the government, but when, at the end, we lost the Legislative Council, I thought if I had any remaining role or value in fighting for Hong Kong, it could only be done outside.”

Hui said that while there were many activists overseas, there was only one other with a legislative background, Nathan Law. “I thought that if I go out too….maybe the impact could be greater.”

He said his family had been under immense pressure after he was arrested repeatedly over the course of several months. The democrat was on bail and facing multiple charges when he went into exile.

“My family were very tense. Every morning, they were listening if someone was banging on the door, worried that I might be arrested again,” he said. “We were monitored and followed everywhere.”

“I had to consider my family, and my children’s safety,” said the father of two. Media reports say his family members also left for England.

‘Political revenge’

Upon his arrival in the UK in early December via Denmark, the bank accounts of Hui and his family were frozen.

Democratic Party lawmaker Ted Hui debates with an officer before being arrested for obstructing police work. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Hong Kong police later confirmed that the accounts were frozen as part of an investigation into alleged money-laundering involving HK$850,000 which Hui raised from a crowdfunding campaign.

“I don’t know how they calculated the amount,” said Hui. “Like I have said before, the money has never left the law firm’s bank account, it has never passed through mine or my family’s bank accounts.”

“This is political revenge.”

Apart from his bank accounts, Hui said his credit cards were also suspended.

The politician’s departure was so rushed he had no time to make arrangements for his property and belongings in Hong Kong, nor did he bid farewell to his friends and family.

“My departure was a shock to people around me, and it was really sad as I could not properly say goodbye to anyone.”

File photo: Stanley Leung/HKFP.

But Hui said he was grateful for the encouraging words and support he had received from his staff, colleagues, and society since his departure.

Setting a precedent

Hui was on an official visit to Denmark, purportedly for a climate change conference, when he announced that he would not be returning to Hong Kong.

Anders Storgaard, a Danish politician, later revealed on Facebook that the conference was fabricated so that a Hong Kong court would grant Hui permission to leave the city.

Asked whether his actions would prompt courts to set stricter bail conditions in future politically-related cases, Hui said this would be unreasonable but inevitable.

“I only knew that the trip was fake after arriving in Denmark. I did not know anything beforehand, he [Storgaard] didn’t tell me anything,” Hui said.

“I told them afterwards that since now we have used this method, they could be more low-key, making it easier for other comrades,” he said. “But they are political figures too, often it is difficult for me to make decisions for them.”

(From left to right) Ted Hui, Anders Storgaard, and Thomas Rohden. File photo: Anders Storgaard, via Twitter.

Hui said Hong Kong prosecutors could easily use his case as an excuse to ask for harsher bail conditions, including confiscating travel documents, even in completely different cases.

“Some may say that this method (of fleeing the city) is too high profile but there aren’t a lot of people with public duties that are facing charges,” the former lawmaker explained.

“Ordinary citizens can’t say that they need to go on an official visit, that’s why I think the impact on citizens is limited, but it seems to be inevitable that some politicians would be affected.”

Hui’s former colleague Lam Cheuk-ting, who appeared in court on Monday facing a riot charge, was ordered to hand in his travel documents as a condition of bail after the prosecution said he might abscond, citing Hui’s case.

Looking ahead

Speaking ahead of the announcement by Nathan Law that he would seek asylum in Britain, Hui said he had no such plans as yet, but would to look into what type of visa or permit to seek if he had to stay for a longer period. He has said previously he has no plans to emigrate.

“To me, not emigrating is a state of mind. Of course it reflects on whether I seek asylum, but I think the main point is that I still see Hong Kong as my home,” he said.

Nathan Law and Ted Hui (right). Photo: Nathan Law, via Facebook.

The former lawmaker said he planned to continue his lobbying, and his status as a former legislator and incumbent district councillor could give him access to higher-ranking officials.

“I think I have a certain level of political experience to know how to deal with foreign officials, and know what considerations they have in the issue of Hong Kong, such as whether it is beneficial to their own countries,” said Hui.

“I think our responsiblity is to convince them that helping Hong Kong is not only a commitment to universal values, but also important to their own national interests,” he added.

“For example, letting Huawei enter their markets affects not only the markets themselves, but also their citzens’ privacy and national intelligence information.”

Parting words

Chief Executive Carrie Lam and her administration have sharply criticised Hui’s departure, without naming him. Hui said she and her ministers should resign and tell the central government that what Hong Kong people want are democracy and freedom.

“I think she really should stop. Under her rule, Hong Kong has turned into a tyranny. Many people have sacrificed their own freedom for Hong Kong’s freedom, the price is too heavy.”

“I hope she could remember that she was raised in Hong Kong, and it was the pre-existing education system and political structure that made her so-called achievements today. Don’t destroy Hong Kong.”

Carrie Lam. Photo: GovHK.

Hui added that while he had no expectations for those in the pro-establishment camp, he hoped that people inside the system, such as civil servants and judges, could stop being “accomplices” of the administration.

“I would ask them to quit, and stop being used as Lam or Beijing’s political tool to oppress Hong Kong people. If they continue down the same road, I would like to ask, where has their conscience gone?”

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Candice Chau

Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.