Taipei [Taiwan], June 22 (ANI): Almost a year after five anti-government protesters fled Hong Kong in July 2020 to escape unfair prosecution and inevitable imprisonment for their roles in the 2019 demonstrations, they seem to have finally found freedom in the United States.
The five protesters, whose ages ranged from 18 to 26 had reached Taiwan, after which they eventually made it to the US, after the latter's Department of State got involved. They had set out from Hong Kong that morning under blue skies, with only iPhones and a compass to guide them across hundreds of miles of open sea to Taiwan, reported The Wall Street Journal (WSJ).
The five on the boat had been involved in Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement in 2019 after it was ignited by a now-scrapped extradition bill that would have allowed people to be extradited to the mainland.
According to WSJ, Ray, a 25-year-old warehouse clerk, participated in days-long standoffs between protesters and police at two Hong Kong universities in November. Police later besieged one of the campuses and eventually arrested more than a thousand people.
Tommy, 22, was an art student and part-time bartender, who spent three days in jail on a charge of illegal assembly before getting bailed out, but his passport was confiscated. Kenny, 26, was a civil engineer, arrested in October 2019 and charged on multiple counts, including assaulting a law enforcement officer.
For their final escape attempt, the three men each chipped in around USD 1,300 to buy an inflatable speedboat with twin engines. They declined to disclose who organised the trip citing fears of reprisals from Hong Kong authorities.
The men took turns steering the speedboat while the others kept watch. Some of them had prepared by watching YouTube videos on how to maneuver a boat in choppy waters.
"We were scared to death. We didn't know what they were up to," said Ray.
Once they reached international waters, Kenny intentionally overheated one of the motors by tangling a rope in its propeller. The men figured anyone who found them would be compelled to take them ashore with just one engine working and their fuel supplies low, reported WSJ.
Later, the Taiwanese coast guard found the trio and took them first to Dongsha and from there to a secret location in Kaohsiung, a port city in southwest Taiwan. Some of the men had hoped to stay in Taiwan but they were all told that they had to leave.
Taiwanese national-security officials worried that being seen as actively assisting Hong Kong fugitives could be used as a pretense by Beijing to justify an invasion, according to a person familiar with the matter.
However, Unknown to the men at the time, efforts were underway to take them to the USSamuel Chu, a Hong Kong-born activist who lives in Washington, said the State Department contacted him after learning about their escape and asked him to help bring them over through a process called humanitarian parole, WSJ reported.
The State Department has declined to comment on the matter, however, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in February that the US should open its doors to people fleeing political repression in China.
It took the US and Taiwan six months to work out for the men to leave safely and on January 13, all men traveled on a commercial flight to New York.
After their arrival, Kenny moved to Washington where he lives in an apartment with other Hong Kong refugees. He co-founded an organization to help protesters from Hong Kong. On the other hand, Ray and Tommy stayed in New York and rented a basement apartment together, having expressed wishes to join the US military.
This comes as people have been fleeing Hong Kong by the thousands since the Chinese authorities imposed the draconian national security law to suppress dissent. Many people have taken the advantage of a UK residency rule that opened the doors to millions of people in Hong Kong or flown to other places such as Canada, Australia or Taiwan.
Some of the people who are facing charges related to the protests see escape attempts as their only way out. Over 10,000 protesters have been arrested and prosecutors have been pushing for extended prison sentences.
Furthermore, getting caught at sea can also carry consequences. In August 2020, China's coast guard intercepted a dozen other pro-democracy protesters making an escape attempt, landing them in a mainland jail before most were sent back to Hong Kong for trials.
Beijing was perturbed by violent anti-government protests in 2019 anThe process will also further concentrate power in the hands of the ruling Communist Party and decimate the political hopes of the territory's already beleaguered opposition for years to come. (ANI)