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Hong Kong exiles in UK say ‘living in fear’ of Beijing

When artists Lumli and Lumlong fled Hong Kong in 2021 they didn’t tell a soul for fear of being reported and arrested before they could leave.

Two years later in London the couple still feel threatened by the long arm of Beijing, like many other Hong Kongers exiled in the UK.

Following Beijing’s crackdown on huge pro-democracy protests in 2019 and a sweeping security law imposed the following year, London has granted 166,000 visas to people from its former colony.

Holders of a British National Overseas passport — issued to Hong Kongers born before the handover to China 26 years ago on July 1, 1997 — can apply for a visa.

It allows them to live and work in the UK for five years and then apply for British citizenship.

In their small London apartment, Lumli and Lumlong, both 43, who go by the one word names they use professionally, keep their artworks depicting the violence inflicted on the pro-democracy demonstrators.

It was after an exhibition in Hong Kong in May 2021 that they realised that they would have to leave.

“We were accused by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the newspaper of violating the Hong Kong National Security Law because of our painting,” Lumlong said.

“The police even came to our studio to frighten us.”

The visit left both feeling they would be arrested “sooner or later” if they didn’t flee, added Lumli.

– Informants –

Their visa took two weeks to come through but it was only after they actually landed in London that they told their family.

Even now, on the other side of the world, “we are not totally safe here”, Lumlong said. “There are so many informants in the UK.”

The British government earlier this month ordered China to close what it views as clandestine police stations on British soil.

Beijing has said it does not operate any secret police stations, but that it runs centres providing administrative services. 

Human rights group Safeguard Defenders said in a report that stations in cities around the world have been used to track down opponents.

Such “police service stations” in the UK should “not operate in any form”, security minister Tom Tugendhat said.

The couple say journalists working for pro-Beijing media came incognito to one of their exhibitions in London last year. 

The pair were then accused by the same media of “coalition with foreign forces”, they said.

A few days later, they said, their social media accounts were hacked.

“It was scary. The hackers changed our picture into (the) ISIS flag,” Lumlong said.

He said they were grateful to the UK for giving them sanctuary but warned that London had to resist pressure from Beijing.

“If the government doesn’t stand up strong against the CCP, we will never be safe,” he added.

The Hong Kong community in the UK was shocked last October after video footage emerged of an incident at the Chinese consulate in Manchester in northern England.

– Nightmares –

Police said a group of men came out of the consulate and…

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