Politics

What will be impact of Hong Kong passport cancellations on 6 fugitives?


Security chief Chris Tang Ping-keung on Wednesday warned Hongkongers that it was illegal for anyone to provide or handle funds via “any platform” for the fugitives, whom the government described as “colluding with external forces to protect their evil deeds”.

The Post explains the latest restrictions and the impact on the wanted activists’ efforts to raise money.

1. Will the cancellations limit the fugitives’ ability to travel?

The six wanted activists, all living in the United Kingdom, were among 13 Hongkongers targeted with HK$1 million (US$128,000) bounties last July and December over alleged national security offences.

The security minister moved on Wednesday to cancel their Hong Kong passports under powers granted by the Safeguarding National Security Ordinance.

The legislation, mandated by Article 23 of the city’s Basic Law mini-constitution, has been in effect for about 2½ months.

But the cancellations might not limit the fugitives’ ability to travel outside the UK if they hold British National (Overseas) passports or other valid travel documents.

Law earlier said on his Facebook page that he had surrendered his Hong Kong passport to the UK Home Office when he sought asylum in the country in 2020. It was not returned to him when he was granted refugee status a year later.

Finn Lau Cho-dik, one of the wanted six, wrote on his X account on Wednesday that he had only ever held a BN(O) passport and had never applied for a Hong Kong one.

Johnny Fok Ka-chi, another fugitive, said on the same day that he held a BN(O) passport, while his YouTube channel co-host Tony Choi Ming-da did not.

It was not known what travel documents were held by the other two absconders – Mung Siu-tat and Simon Cheng Man-kit.

Former security chief Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, now convenor of the key decision-making Executive Council, conceded that countries hosting the fugitives could issue them temporary travel documents.

The move to cancel the passports could still serve as a deterrent measure, despite the limited impact on mobility, she said.

“It will demonstrate to any potential absconders that the government takes absconding very seriously and there are punitive measures directed against them,” she said.

The wanted opposition figures (clockwise from top left): Nathan Law, Mung Siu-tat, Finn Lau, Tony Choi, Johnny Fok and Simon Cheng. Photos: AFP/Facebook/Police National Security Department/SCMP Composite

2. How do the funding restrictions harm the absconders financially?

The Hong Kong government said the absconders made “scaremongering remarks” to smear and slander the city, and authorities had therefore barred anyone from providing or handling funds for them.

Law has been active on Patreon, where he charges subscribers HK$40 to HK$795 a month for content ranging from excerpts of his speeches to discussions about “people-to-people diplomacy”.

Lau operates an account on Ko-fi with 365 followers. Unlike Patreon, the UK-registered platform does not take commissions on donations.

He earlier pledged on the platform that he would advocate for “lifeboat” settlement programmes and mobilise overseas Hongkongers to join gatherings targeting human rights issues in the city.

Fok and Choi run a current affairs commentary channel called “Tuesdayroad” on YouTube and a Patreon page, on which they monetise their content through ads and encourage supporters to sign up to paid subscriptions.

The pair said the number of Hong Kong-based subscribers on YouTube had “dwindled to nearly zero” since police issued warrants for their arrest last December.

They said they relied on overseas funding, with about 100 subscribers mostly contributing between HK$5 and HK$10 monthly, excluding one-off donations.

3. Is it illegal to subscribe to their Patreon, Ko-fi or YouTube accounts?

The measures targeting funding have no extraterritorial effect.

But security chief Tang said anyone in the city who continued to support the absconders financially would be violating the law.

“It doesn’t matter which platform it is. As long as they are providing or assisting them in handling the funding, [they] will be subject to criminal sanction,” he said.

Police warned that anyone caught breaching the measures, without an exemption granted by the security minister, could face up to seven years in jail.

Barrister and Exco member Ronny Tong Ka-wah also cautioned local residents against subscribing to the Patreon accounts, as such actions risked violating the law.

“The restrictions aim to ban relevant individuals from continuing to obtain funds to endanger national security. It would be difficult for any subscriber to defend that they were unaware of what they were supporting,” he said.

Security chief Chris Tang says anyone in the city who continues to support the absconders financially will be violating the law. Photo: Sam Tsang

4. Will the platforms remove content or cancel accounts?

Ip said that the domestic national security law included offences related to inciting disaffection and hatred towards the government.

The government could ask online platform operators to remove or cease publishing certain content, she said, pointing to recent examples of such requests made to Google and YouTube over “Glory to Hong Kong”, a protest song popular during the 2019 social unrest.

She added that the government could first contact the platforms to request their cooperation before considering the need for a court order if they did not cooperate.

The Post has contacted the platforms for comment.

5. What about the other restrictions on the wanted activists?

Hong Kong authorities also banned anyone from leasing properties to or engaging in “joint ventures or partnerships” with the six.

Anyone caught violating these restrictions could face a maximum seven years in prison.

Fok had his professional qualifications as a barrister in Hong Kong suspended, while Mung and Choi were also removed from their directorial positions.

Unlike the 2020 Beijing-imposed security law, the domestic national security law specifically targets the offences of treason, insurrection, sabotage, external interference, sedition, theft of state secrets and espionage.

The secretary for security may declare an individual charged under the domestic security legislation as an absconder if a warrant for their arrest has been active for at least six months, they have not appeared before a magistrate and are reasonably believed to be located outside Hong Kong.



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