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Chinese national who joined Hong Kong protests now begging in Taiwan

Thousands of protesters surround the police headquarter in Hong Kong on June 21, 2019. (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images/TNS)
August 28, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

A mainland Chinese citizen who repeatedly took part in Hong Kong’s anti-extradition movement is now begging on the streets of democratic Taiwan after abandoning a tour group.

Zhang Wen, 47, is currently sleeping rough in Taipei after arriving in the country on a package tour with other visitors from mainland China.

“I definitely don’t want to go back to mainland China now,” he told RFA. “So I have two options: I can either apply to extend my visa here, or I can apply for political asylum.”

“I don’t really know what to do right now: I feel very embarrassed [at my situation]. I am sleeping on the street or in the parks, the ones that don’t have too many mosquitoes.”

Zhang said he currently has only a few hundred Taiwan dollars to his name.

“Sometimes people give me 400 or so Taiwan dollars: enough to buy me some food,” he said.

He said some people in Taiwan took pity on him after hearing that he fears going home after crossing the border into Hong Kong several times during June and July to take part in mass protests against plans to allow the extradition of alleged criminal suspects to face trial in mainland China.

“I tell them that I took part in the anti-extradition movement and that I can’t go back to mainland China, and that I have fallen on hard times,” Zhang said.

“I showed them the video of me taking part in the storming of the Legislative Council (LegCo), so that’s why they gave me the money,” he said.

Zhang has photos and selfies on his phone taken during protests outside Hong Kong’s department of justice and police headquarters, and during the storming of LegCo.

“The risk that I will be caught for my support for the anti-extradition protests is very high,” Zhang said. “I will definitely get arrested for the storming of LegCo, because some people have been detained just for posting that they support the anti-extradition movement online.”

“I pretty much lived outside LegCo for 10 days. There are so many surveillance cameras there, how would they not find me?”

Support for Hong Kong

Zhang said he supports the people of Hong Kong in their demands to uphold their city’s promised autonomy and traditional freedoms, including protesters’ demands for fully democratic elections.

“The Chinese Communist Party’s attack on Hong Kong’s [separate status] is similar to the way they destroyed the autonomy of Tibet and Inner Mongolia,” said Zhang, a Han Chinese who hails from Inner Mongolia.

“In Inner Mongolia, there was also a treaty with the government, and it was also supposed to be a province with a high degree of autonomy, but all that has totally changed,” Zhang said.

“Tibet has changed now, too, so the Hong Kong anti-extradition movement is entirely justified,” he said.

“It has been the same in Inner Mongolia, Tibet, and the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region … it’s all the same thing. In the end, they are all assimilated,” he said.

“I don’t think Taiwan should have any dealings with them,” he said. “I also agree with Taiwan independence. The world is big enough that it can interact with other countries.”

“Human rights should be more powerful than the state, not the other way around.”

History of activism

Zhang said he also has taken part in rights activism in Beijing, including anti-eviction activism, medical rights, and labor activism on behalf of railway workers, producing evidence of an administrative sentence handed down to him in 2014 by police in Beijing’s Dongcheng district, and of an 18-month jail term handed down by a court in his home city of Ordos in October 2017 for “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble.”

He said he believes the sentence was linked to a post he made online a few years ago, in which he wrote that “the Chinese people will only manage to have decent lives if they overthrow the Communist Party.”

Zhang said police had prevented him from finding work or accommodation following his release last April, so had been sleeping rough in mainland China before he went to Hong Kong.

“The mainland authorities won’t let me make a living,” he said. “There is no way to live on the mainland, there is no way to participate in political activities and survive.”

“They monitor you through WeChat, so you can’t do anything, and you get beaten up, electrocuted, and tortured in prison,” he said.

Request for help

Zhang sought the assistance of a Taiwan rights NGO on Monday to help him with his immigration issues.

Taiwan’s Immigration Department said Zhang could face a fine of more than NT$2,000 and banned from coming to the country as a tourist if he overstays his tourism visa.

An official reiterated that Taiwan currently has no refugee law, nor any legal mechanism for processing political asylum applications.

However, the authorities have previously granted long-term residence permits to prominent leaders in China’s pro-democracy movement, and handle all applications on a case-by-case basis based on international best practice, the official said.

A website linked to former Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying is offering rewards of up to HK$1 million for information leading to the prosecution of people linked to specific anti-government protests over the past two months.

Up to HK$8 million in rewards are available on the site, after Leung had personally offered a HK$1 million reward to anyone who found the protesters who threw the Chinese national flag into the city’s Victoria Harbour on Aug. 3.

Smaller sums of at least HK$200,000 are offered in connection with other incidents, including the storming of the Legislative Council Building and the cutting-down of a smart lamppost in Kowloon Bay, government broadcaster RTHK reported.

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam on Tuesday refused to rule out the use of emergency measures and martial law to put an end to weeks of anti-extradition protests that have gripped the city since early June.

Lam has refused to meet any of the protesters’ demands: the formal withdrawal of planned amendments to extradition laws; an amnesty for arrested protesters;  an end to the description of protesters as rioters; an independent inquiry into police abuse of power; and fully democratic elections.