Protester who fled to Taiwan: ‘Tell my family I’m sorry for the trouble I’ve caused. I will never return to Hong Kong’


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As Hong Kong marks a year since the anti-government movement began, the Post analyses how key players have fared. This is the fifth article in the series.
Sitting in the Taipei flat he shares with seven other Hongkongers, all participants in last year’s anti-government protests, Jack Chan* has no idea what the future holds.
Chan, in his 20s, fled to Taiwan after Hong Kong police started looking for him over his involvement in a serious offence during the protests.
He declined to say what he did, but admitted he supported violent means because peaceful protests had proven futile.
“I want to tell my family that I am sorry for all the trouble I have brought them. They never scolded me, but they are very worried,” said Chan, who makes ends meet earning about NT$3,000 (US$100) a week from casual jobs.
“I don’t know what I will be like 10 years from now. I haven’t thought that far.”
All he knows is that he will never return to Hong Kong, because he fears being arrested as soon as he sets foot there.
About 200 Hong Kong protesters are believed to have headed to Taiwan after social unrest erupted in June last year.
Some left Hong Kong after being charged. Others fled while on bail after being arrested, anxious to avoid going to court.
According to people who helped them leave, there are between dozens and 100 Hong Kong protesters in Taiwan, some on tourist visas like Chan, while others have obtained work permits.
Chan said that before last year, he was not a devoted activist. He sometimes took part in the annual July 1 march, but hardly ever attended the June 4 vigil to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing.
He had no strong anti-mainland feelings, and even went on occasional trips to Shenzhen with friends.
But last year, when the Hong Kong government introduced its extradition bill that could have sent fugitives to the mainland and other jurisdictions with which there was no exchange arrangement, he not only joined the protests but also supported the use of violence.
Although the bill was withdrawn, the protests continued through the second half of last year. Masked radicals vandalised property and threw petrol bombs and bricks at police, who responded with tear gas and other crowd dispersal weapons.
“The extradition bill was just outrageous,” Chan said. “I feared that people would be sent to the mainland on skimpy charges, and I just don’t trust the mainland legal system.”
He began attending protests regularly from June 11, when protesters gathered at the government headquarters in Admiralty, and was outside the Legislative Council the next day when police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd.
Chan said he was on holiday and out of Hong Kong when police showed up one day at his home after midnight, looking for him.
“My family was shocked. They knew I had taken part in the movement but did not know I was so involved,” he said.
He did not want to reveal too much about his family, aside from saying they were working class. He also would not reveal where he was when police showed up.
But when he found out police were looking for him, he decided not to return to Hong Kong. He got on a flight to Taiwan and with the help of friends there, moved in with the other Hongkongers.
Taiwan’s government promised to help Hong Kong protesters who chose to leave, prompting condemnation from Beijing.
Chan said he missed his family and comfortable bed in Hong Kong, but knew he had to make do for now. He said he had a girlfriend, but she broke up with him after he landed in trouble.
When he wants to call home, he borrows someone’s phone and keeps the conversations short, worried that his family members’ phones might be tapped.
Because he is in Taiwan on a tourist visa, he cannot get a legal full-time job. He has managed to find casual jobs in restaurants, usually working from 10am till midnight.
“It’s not a matter of whether I can get used to life here. I have no other choice,” he said. “My Mandarin is very bad. I understand the language but can’t speak it well. But people here have been nice to me.”
He said some Hong Kong protesters had obtained employment visas and were able to work, but others appeared to have gone into hiding because they were not sure who they could trust. He heard that some were in financial difficulty.
“I hope I can get in touch with them, so that we can help each other out,” he said.
Chan has applied to enrol in a Taiwan university, hoping that a degree will be his ticket to a better life.
He does not know if he will get a place. All he knows for certain is that Taiwan is his home for now.
“I will never go back to Hong Kong,” he said.
*Name changed at the request of the interviewee.
Previous articles in the series looked at police strategy , the future of the anti-government movement , the link between protest violence and the new national security law, and the ordeal of a constable severely burned in an acid attack.
This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.
Copyright (c) 2020. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.
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