Earnest, bespectacled, boyish, Nathan Law, 27, has a gentle, scholarly air that belies the fierceness of his convictions.
Speaking to me from a small apartment in London – he will not disclose the location – the fear that drove him to flee his native Hong Kong is tangible.
‘Wherever I am in the world, I’m still a target,’ he says. ‘I can’t stay in the same place for more than a month. I’ll be constantly moving.’
But when I told him that the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was to announce that the UK planned to terminate its extradition agreement with Hong Kong, he was visibly relieved.
Earnest, bespectacled, boyish, Nathan Law, 27, has a gentle, scholarly air that belies the fierceness of his convictions. He is pictured right with activist Joshua Wong in 2016
‘That’s such good news because it means that Britain recognises that Hong Kong’s rule of law does not exist,’ he says.
‘For me, it’s important that they can’t extradite me back to Hong Kong.’
It was a couple of weeks ago that Law – the timeline is intentionally vague – crammed a few possessions into a backpack and fled the former British colony for the relative safety of the British capital.
‘I was worried that I’d be stopped when I got to the border which is why I’d made the painful decision to leave so much behind: letters I’d received in prison that meant so much to me,’ he says.
He was just 23 when he became Hong Kong’s youngest ever legislator and he achieved instant notoriety by using his swearing-in ceremony as a platform for his campaign. Nathan Law is pictured alongside Joshua Wong
‘And when I put my ID card in the machine I was shaking with fear, worried that it would pop up that I was a blacklisted person.’ In the event he got through unchallenged.
A political activist, he was propelled to leave by the threat of imprisonment by the Chinese government that on July 1 imposed a draconian new security law on the city whose democratic freedoms he will defend until his last breath.
Law would certainly have been in Beijing’s crosshairs. He was just 23 when he became Hong Kong’s youngest ever legislator and he achieved instant notoriety by using his swearing-in ceremony as a platform for his campaign. In his opening statement he argued that the oath ceremony itself had become a ‘political tool’ of the regime.
He also added a quote from Mahatma Gandhi that included the words: ‘You can chain me, you can torture me, you can even destroy this body, but you will never imprison my mind.’
Just over a year later he had been disqualified from holding office and within a month of that ruling he was arrested for taking part in a protest deemed illegal by the authorities.
He was detained at the Tong Fuk Correctional Institution on Hong Kong’s Lantau Island and served two-and-a-half months before being granted bail.
‘We lived 20 to a cell. The conditions weren’t good,’ he says with studied understatement.
‘The food was bad and there was no privacy. But I felt lucky. If I’d been sent, as other protesters were, to a prison in mainland China I would have been tortured.’
A political activist, he was propelled to leave by the threat of imprisonment by the Chinese government that on July 1 imposed a draconian new security law on the city whose democratic freedoms he will defend until his last breath. Caricatures mocking activists Joshua Wong and Nathan Law were seen outside the High Court in Hong Kong in 2017
Following the introduction of the new law, he felt he had no option but to leave.
‘I left Hong Kong with tears in my eyes. It was very emotional for me and it was a difficult choice to go. But if I stayed and challenged its community to hold China accountable, that would have led to years if not lifelong imprisonment.
‘The threat is imminent. If the Chinese government wants to prosecute now, it is equipped with the legal weapons to do it. Ordinary citizens are deleting Facebook accounts if they’ve posted anything in support of the democracy movement. They are afraid it will be used as evidence to prosecute them.
‘They are not chanting slogans like ‘free Hong Kong’ any more. This is the effect of the white terror. And the most chilling thing? That the new security law has banned subversion and inciting hatred of the Chinese government but has not defined what they are.’
China’s wide-ranging new security law not only makes it easier to punish protesters but makes ‘inciting hatred’ of the Chinese Communist Party illegal. It also permits secret trials and phone tapping of suspects and allows them to be tried on mainland China where they face torture.
Law’s mission in the UK is to continue doing what he can no longer do in his birthplace. He issues a rallying cry to the Government to stand up to the diktats of Beijing.
‘Wherever I am in the world, I’m still a target,’ he says. ‘I can’t stay in the same place for more than a month. I’ll be constantly moving.’ But when I told him that the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab (above) was to announce that the UK planned to terminate its extradition agreement with Hong Kong, he was visibly relieved
‘Britain must form a coherent, united front with other western democracies to protect the democratic and liberal values we share,’ he urges.
‘I am here to share my story, to advocate for democracy in Hong Kong, to urge the UK and Western democracies to form an alliance to combat the authoritarian expansion of China and to ensure human rights are prioritised over trade in their dealings with them.’
But he is still constantly looking over his shoulder. The tentacles of the CCP stretch far and wide.
‘The [security] law applies anywhere in the world,’ he says.
‘I cannot go back to Hong Kong and that’s heart-breaking, but this is about more than personal choice.
‘I have a duty, a responsibility, to speak out on behalf of the people of Hong Kong and I am willing to sacrifice a long period of my life, maybe decades – until there is democracy there.’
Asked if he fears for the safety of his Chinese-born parents, still in Hong Kong, he says: ‘I prefer not to talk about them. The more I talk, the more I endanger them. I worry that my father is under surveillance, that he could be arrested. I don’t know whether these things could happen.’
He adds: ‘I don’t know when I will go back. I am not optimistic in the short term. I will continue to fight until democracy is won.
‘I came to the UK because it has a very special relationship with Hong Kong, a historical obligation and ties with it. I hope Britain continues to take this relationship seriously. China must be held accountable for its human rights violations.’