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Jitendra JOSHI

Exiled HK protest leader holds first meeting with UK govt

Nathan Law is a founding member of the pro-democracy Demosisto party. ©AFP

London (AFP) - Hong Kong democracy activist Nathan Law on Wednesday held his first meeting with a UK minister after fleeing to Britain in July, as the government looks to ease entry rules for residents wanting to escape a Chinese crackdown on the former British colony.

The meeting was convened by Shaun Bailey, who is running to be London mayor for the ruling Conservatives, and attended by Home Secretary Priti Patel as she reviews a plan to relax entry rules for Hong Kong holders of British National (Overseas) passports.

"The BNO scheme means a lot to Hong Kong people who had tasted freedom but (are) gradually losing it," Law said in a statement issued by Bailey's campaign office.

"It helps them to live free from political persecution.I am very grateful to the Home Secretary Priti Patel for her effort in crafting this policy and we had a constructive dialogue about it," he said.

Patel said: "The United Kingdom will stand by the people of Hong Kong and keep our promise to protect and uphold their freedoms."

Britain created the BNO status ahead of Hong Kong's 1997 handover back to Chinese rule, allowing its residents to apply for a restricted form of British nationality.

The UK has already relaxed requirements to permit Hongkongers with BNO status to come to Britain with their dependants, allowing them to remain and work for five years, and then apply for full citizenship.

More than 350,000 people currently have BNO passports, and the government estimates there are around 2.9 million eligible for the status in total in Hong Kong. 

Patel's Home Office is conducting a review to further ease the rules, and an announcement is expected next month.

'Disreputable and appalling'

Law, 27, relocated to Britain days after confirming he had fled Hong Kong because of Beijing's new security law, which was imposed on the semi-autonomous territory on June 30 after years of mass protests.

He was a founding member of Demosisto, a pro-democracy party that disbanded the same day as the security law was instituted.

Three other leading lights of Demosisto -- Joshua Wong, Ivan Lam and Agnes Chow -- were handed jail terms in Hong Kong a week ago for taking part in huge democracy protests last year.

That prompted strong protests from Britain's government, but it has so far backed off imposing financial and travel bans on Chinese and Hong Kong leaders, unlike the US government.

In a debate about Hong Kong on Monday, British lawmakers expressed strong backing for the jailed protest leaders, arrested media tycoon Jimmy Lai and for pro-democracy lawmaker Ted Hui, who this month joined Law in self-exile.

They vented particular fury at London- and Hong Kong-based banking giant HSBC for freezing bank accounts linked to figures such as Hui.

Accusing HSBC of acting in a "disreputable and appalling way", former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith demanded reprisals against the bank from the UK government.

Foreign Office minister Nigel Adams said it was up to individual businesses to "make their own judgement calls", following pressure on major companies from China.

Adams added that it would be "perverse" if Britain were to deny eventual asylum to the likes of Joshua Wong because of their criminal convictions.

Britain's consul-general in Hong Kong, Andrew Heyn, hit out at China's widening clampdown in local media interviews this week as he prepares to quit the territory.

Denying suggestions that Heyn had expressed unhappiness at its policy on Hong Kong, the government in London said his posting had come to a normal end after four years.

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