Hong Kong students and residents living in democratic Taiwan have petitioned the island's president to place immigration restrictions on officials from the Hong Kong who have expressed support for amendments to the city's extradition law that would mandate that suspects be sent to mainland China to face trial.
The students presented the petition to President Tsai Ing-wen's staff on Thursday, calling on Taiwan's authorities to take into account the human rights records of applicants for visas and other immigration permits.
Dozens of students gathered on Friday morning, also calling on Tsai to ensure the safety and freedom of Hong Kong residents in Taiwan, and to provide them with emergency assistance if necessary.
Tsai's secretary-general Chen Chu later told the students that the president is very concerned about the situation in Hong Kong and has promised to ensure the safety of Hong Kong students in Taiwan.
According to Gary Cheung, a student currently studying at National Taiwan University of Arts, many in Hong Kong feel that the city is in the grip of a political crisis, because the amended law when passed could mean that the ruling Chinese Communist Party would be able to target peaceful dissidents and activists using charges brought via its own criminal justice system.
"If the China renditions law is really implemented, then some of us who have protested on the streets or come out on strike are in big trouble," Cheung said. "Some people have already been arrested for making comments on the internet," he said, although it was unclear whether they were in mainland China or Hong Kong.
Cheung said he would consider applying for residency in Taiwan.
"There is a very real threat to me in Hong Kong, so I wouldn't rule that out," he told RFA.
Participants at a political forum in Taiwan on Friday said the move to change Hong Kong's extradition laws has left many on the island feeling very worried about their future, too.
In a Jan. 2 speech titled "Letter to our Taiwan compatriots," Chinese President Xi Jinping said that Taiwan must be "unified" with China and refused to rule out the use of military force to annex the island.
But Tsai has repeatedly said that Taiwan's population of 23 million have no wish to give up their sovereignty, a view that is borne out by repeated opinion polls.
Professor Tung Li-wen of the Asia-Pacific Elite Interchange Association said the atmosphere in Taiwan feels something like that in Hong Kong on the eve of the 1997 handover to Chinese rule.
"I think the situation we are facing in Taiwan today is no longer a question of what happens today in Hong Kong happens tomorrow in Taiwan," Tung told the symposium. "It's more like what happened in Hong Kong yesterday is happening in Taiwan today."
Taipei city councilor Wu Pei-yi said the changes will affect Taiwan, and called on the island to stand up for freedom and democracy.
"Everyone in Taiwan could see from the live streams that the people were unarmed, and were just standing up to express their views," Wu said. "[The police] behavior was similar to atrocities carried out by a criminal gang."
"This is very familiar to us in Taiwan," he said. "Twenty or 30 years ago, we saw mobs like that during the Kuomintang (KMT) authoritarian regime, whenever people came out onto the streets."
More than 4,000 Hong Kong residents applied to live in Taiwan last year, while more than 1,000 now have settled status in the country.
Not everyone who applies gets accepted, however.
Former Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing-kei, who has moved to Taiwan for fear of being extradited over books sold by the Causeway Bay bookstore in Hong Kong, said he didn't meet the conditions.
"I didn't have a strong set of criteria," Lam told RFA. "I'm not a very good example, because I haven't much to my name."
"The other people [applying] probably have more money than me; if the Taiwan government would really reach out a helping hand to me [that would be great], but they're not as powerful as I had thought they were," he said.
"It mainly depends on whether the Taiwan government is coming at it from a humanitarian perspective," Lam said. "Some people need a place where they can actually continue living [in peace]. Such people will likely also make an economic contribution to Taiwan."
"It's not as if they would be coming here to live for nothing; they would also be helping Taiwan's economy," he said.
Lam said not all Taiwanese welcome Hong Kong immigrants, however. There is also some resentment directed at Hong Kong people who are believed to have taken jobs away from local residents.
Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) could shape the agenda at an extraordinary debate in the Legislative Yuan next week, during which a much-needed Refugee Law will likely be discussed.
Meanwhile, in Hong Kong
The main chamber of Hong Kong's Legislative Council (LegCo) remained closed on Friday following mass protests against government plans to amend the city's Fugitive Offenders Ordinance to allow case-by-case renditions of alleged suspects to face trial in mainland Chinese courts.
The protests led to the postponement of a LegCo debate on the bill's second reading, and led to widespread condemnation of police for their use of tear gas, rubber bullets, pepper spray and beatings in their bid to disperse the crowds.
An estimated 1.03 million people took to the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday in a mass demonstration against the amendments, but Lam merely reiterated her determination to get the proposed amendments to the extradition law through the legislature, a move critics said sparked clashes between police and protesters as most participants went home.
Critics fear the amendments pose a huge threat to Hong Kong's way of life, which was supposed to have been protected under the "one country, two systems" framework under which the former British colony was handed back to China in 1997.
The move-which Chinese officials have said must be implemented "urgently"-has sparked widespread fear that the city will lose its status as a separate legal jurisdiction, and that rights activists and dissidents in the city could be targeted by Beijing for actions deemed illegal across the internal border.
Judges, lawyers, opposition politicians, rights activists, business groups, and journalists have all expressed vocal opposition to the plan, which will allow China to request the extradition of an alleged suspect from Hong Kong based on the standards of evidence that currently apply in its own courts.
The most likely jurisdiction to use the proposed provision is mainland China, which currently has no formal extradition treaty with Hong Kong, and Lam has tried to reassure people that legal safeguards will be used to safeguard the rights of suspects.
But lawyers, who last week staged a silent protest at the planned amendments, say the government's supposed safeguards are meaningless.
More than 250,000 people had signed a White House petition by Friday, calling on U.S. President Donald Trump to tighten visa restrictions for officials who had supported the extradition amendments.
"If passed, Hong Kong people and the 60,000 American expatriates who are residing in Hong Kong will be exposed to the risk of facing criminal proceedings in China," the petition text at We The People said.
"Under the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, foreign government officials and their immediate family members, who are responsible for severe violations of human rights, [are] inadmissible for entry into the United States," it said.
"We urge Congress to revoke the U.S. citizenships and visas of the Hong Kong and China officials who are in support of this bill," the petition said.
Reported by Chung Kuang-cheng for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Hwang Chun-mei for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
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