A heightened fear for their safety, increased worry for their families, and a desperate search for international support — this is what dominates everyday life for two activists in Britain who are among Hong Kong’s most wanted.
Last month, Hong Kong police announced bounties of HK$1 million (US$128,000) on eight democratic activists living abroad, encouraging the public to pass on information that could lead to their arrest.
Former legislator Nathan Law and veteran unionist Christopher Mung are among the eight, accused under a sweeping national security law that Beijing imposed on the city to quell dissent following massive 2019 protests.
Singled out overnight with the announcement, they woke up in England on July 3 to messages on social media about their fugitive status.
“I was shocked,” Mung, 51, told AFP in a recent interview in Britain, saying that he looked into the charge of secession to figure out why he was in the group.
He realised “once you (are) targeted by the regime, then you will be charged with whatever excuse”.
“If I were ever found guilty, the only crime should be speaking out the truth for Hong Kong people,” the veteran unionist said.
Law, 30, a familiar face for his role as prominent legislator in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy bloc, said being wanted by the law was not new for him.
“But being on a bounty list is definitely something new,” Law told AFP in London, where he was granted asylum in 2021 for his political advocacy.
“I had to look into it, what does it entail, and whether it will give a lot of incentive for the people around me… to provide any information of sensitive privacy data about me,” he said.
Suddenly being pushed to think about how to protect his personal information and his daily movements caused “a little bit of anxiety”.
“It also shows the stepping up of Hong Kong government’s intimidation tactics, (in which) they’re not only arresting you — they’re harassing people around you, then they are trying to offer incentive for people to give up your information,” Law said.
Hong Kong’s leader John Lee has said the group of eight will be “pursued for life” and “spend their days in fear“.
The United States, Britain and Australia — all countries where the activists are currently residing — have condemned Hong Kong for issuing bounties.
‘Harassing’ families, colleagues
Police have so far taken in at least 30 people in Hong Kong — two-thirds of them family relatives — for questioning over their alleged ties to the eight activists.
Most were released within hours and not formally arrested.
During the same period, seven former members of a now-disbanded political party, once led by Law, were arrested for supporting “people who have fled overseas” accused of national security crimes.
“That has become the common pattern for the regime — to blackmail the social activists by harassing their colleagues or their family members on the ground,” said Mung, who said he has not set foot in Hong Kong since he left in September 2021.
But he is “worried” about his family in Hong Kong — in the past month, his brother, sister-in-law and nephew were taken in for questioning.
“Although they don’t have any relation (to) what I’m doing, I still have low confidence to say they are safe,” Mung told AFP.
The new strategy shows “the long-arm policy of China and of Hong Kong”, said Law, whose family members were questioned by the police even though he has repeatedly said he has severed ties with them.
He also rejected the accusation that he is a “foreign agent”.
“The government doesn’t want to recognise… that Hong Kong people have the agency to resist,” Law said.
Mung agreed, adding that “even those in prison… still hold their belief in their hearts”.
More than 260 people have been arrested under the national security law since its enactment in 2020, with most of the city’s best-known activists jailed or fled overseas.
‘Speak the truth’
Now settled in Britain, Mung remains cautious about disclosing personal information. He wears a cap when going out to avoid being recognised and carries an alarm device with him.
But he is determined to continue his advocacy.
“I will remind myself… the burden on us is still much less than what the people in Hong Kong are bearing,” he said.
“If I stopped because of the fear, that will only encourage the Chinese government to do more intimidation.”
Echoing Mung, Law called for “more sanctions” on Hong Kong for its crackdown on civil rights.
“We are here to speak out the truth and what is really happening in Hong Kong, and (urge) the global community to implement a more assertive policy towards China and towards Hong Kong,” Law said.
“That wouldn’t change.”