Former Hong Kong district councilor goes into exile but vows to keep contributing to Hong Kong’s democracy movement

On Monday, former Hong Kong district councilor Timothy Lee announced on Facebook that he had left Hong Kong, becoming another pro-democracy political figure that is forced to leave the city following the implementation of the national security law.

“In 2019, I participated in the protest through a different role and in November 2019, I became one of the last batches of district councilors elected by Hong Kong people,” he wrote in his Facebook statement.

Lee said the reason that prompted him to leave Hong Kong was the mass-arrest of the 47 pro-democracy figures at the end of February for participating in the legislative council’s primary held by the pro-democracy camp in Hong Kong.

As one of the candidates in the primary, Lee thought he also faced the risk of being arrested by the Hong Kong government under the national security law. “At the time, I saw the need to leave Hong Kong so I decided to leave,” he said. “After the Hong Kong government enforced the national security law, the freedom we enjoy in Hong Kong has already been shrinking.”

In his Facebook statement, Lee talked about how he worked as an elected representative in the district council and participated in the pro-democracy camp’s legislative council primary as a localist candidate. Additionally, he joined the committee for establishing the “Hong Kong Citizen’s Political Platform,” hoping to build a cross-district platform focusing on issues about Hong Kong citizens’ livelihood. However, that person was forced to dissolve after the government labeled it as “an illegal platform.”

Lee said under an ideal system, it shouldn’t be a crime for Hong Kong’s elected representatives to carry out their duties, but he believes Beijing is hoping to eliminate the space for pro-democracy politicians entirely. “There will no longer be politicians who are pro-democracy and we are now all activists,” he said.

“We can’t hold office anymore in Hong Kong and we can’t meaningfully run for office. I think after the current term of district council expires, there will be no pro-democracy politicians left. There is no longer space for pro-democracy activists to run in the system. I think it’s quite saddening and I feel frustrated.”

“The legislative council election will be entirely undemocratic”

During the anti-extradition bill protest in 2019, Lee held a march that was protesting against the excessive amount of tourists to the area around Hung Hom, and in November that year, he was elected as one of the district councilors. In 2020, he participated in the legislative council primary held by the pro-democracy camp.

In March 2021, Lee was unseated from the Kowloon City district council after the High Court ruled that he was unduly elected as he didn’t have proof that he was supported by certain pro-democracy figures. This made him the first pro-democracy district councilor to be disqualified.

Lee said he feels like he has abandoned his friends and allies for leaving Hong Kong, but he hopes to carry the complicated feeling with him as he begins his new life abroad. As for how he plans to contribute to the growing international campaign for Hong Kong, Lee thinks that he doesn’t carry enough political mandate in Hong Kong to carry out advocacy works overseas, but he plans to do things that are good for Hong Kong’s democracy movement from behind-the-scenes.

“I will continue to write about Hong Kong culture and Hong Kong politics and I will continue to do some behind-the-scenes work,” he said. “There will be Hong Kong people in every part of the world and there will be a need for a Hong Kong guy like me to help each other. I will just do whatever I can help the democratic cause in Hong Kong and help the Hong Kong people.”

As Hong Kong prepares to hold the postponed legislative council election in December, Lee describes it as “a completely undemocratic election.” “It’s just an NPC-style election in Hong Kong and it’s a clear violation of the joint declaration as the British Foreign Secretary has already said,” he said.

Last month, the Hong Kong government announced that the legislative council election will be held on December 19, and before that, Beijing’s National People’s Congress passed a series of amendments to reform Hong Kong’s electoral system.

The Chinese government described the series of electoral reform as letting patriots rule Hong Kong and claimed that these mechanisms can prevent “anti-China” individuals from entering the power structure in Hong Kong through elections. However, some experts criticized China’s move as “a second handover” for Hong Kong and they viewed it as the latest way for Beijing to limit Hong Kong’s political freedom.

As one of the last batch of democratically elected representatives in Hong Kong, Lee thinks the Hong Kong government is going to exclude district councilors from the formulation process of policies in Hong Kong. He also worries that once the government begins to implement the oath-taking law for district councilors, more pro-democracy politicians could be disqualified.

Despite the challenges ahead, Lee emphasizes that Hong Kong will always be his only home no matter where he is. “I won’t just emigrate to another country and call it home,” he said. “Hong Kong is my only home.”

This piece was first published in Mandarin on DW’s Chinese website.

William Yang is a journalist based in Taiwan, where he writes about politics, society, and human rights issues in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.