Glen Owen, in Mail Online, 29 August 2020, with a different title
A British democracy activist has been captured by the Chinese after trying to make a dramatic seaborne escape from Hong Kong to Taiwan. Andy Li, 30, who has worked with former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and other politicians on pro-democracy campaigns, was intercepted in international waters, along with 11 other activists, as they tried to navigate the perilous South China Sea in a small boat.
Mr Li had been arrested two weeks earlier under draconian new security laws introduced by Beijing to try to stamp out protests. While he was on bail, Mr Li was warned by his lawyers that he could face life imprisonment when eventually tried.
After Mr Li, who had British National (Overseas) status, was advised that the British consulate in Hong Kong was unable to help him, he hatched the desperate escape plan. Last night, Mr Duncan Smith, who helped to establish the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), said that Mr Li had risked his life to try to reach self-governing Taiwan which regularly offers sanctuary to people escaping the mainland.
Writing for The Mail on Sunday, right, Mr Duncan Smith said: ‘Andy and 11 others, all young and desperate, risked everything in an attempt to escape to Taiwan. They crowded into an overloaded old boat, unseaworthy and in the hands of a novice and set out into one of the most heavily patrolled seas in the world. Sadly they were caught by the Chinese authorities.’
Mr Duncan Smith – a trenchant critic of the Beijing regime – added: ‘As long as human rights are so appallingly violated, we should not be conducting business as usual with China.’
The protests in the former British colony were triggered last year by plans to allow Hong Kong citizens to be extradited to China.
Mr Li, who is now being held on the Chinese mainland, had only made it about a third of the way across the perilous 400-mile stretch to Taiwan when he was intercepted.
He was the co-founder of Fight for Freedom Stand for Hong Kong, a campaign which raised £1.7million to support pro-democracy activities, and played a role in setting up IPAC’s website and was involved in behind-the-scenes digital support.
The Chinese authorities told Mr Li that working with politicians such as Mr Duncan Smith was evidence of ‘collaborating with foreign forces to undermine Hong Kong’s national security’.
One of Mr Li’s friends said: ‘Andy stopped volunteering for IPAC before July 1, when the new security law came into force, but the authorities wouldn’t listen. Rather than spend decades in gulag-style conditions on the Chinese mainland, he and the other campaigners paid a group of people-smugglers to try take them to Taiwan.
Mr Li has worked with former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith (pictured) and other politicians on pro-democracy campaigns
‘They left last Saturday at 7pm local time, and called supporters an hour later on a satellite phone to say that they were international waters, but failed to call again an hour later as agreed. The seas were choppy, and the boat was old, decrepit and massively overloaded – far from seaworthy. The skipper had trained for just two days on how to handle a boat. It was a desperate attempt.
‘Although Andy was classed as a British National (Overseas) and had dual-nationality, the UK does not as a matter of policy provide consular support for people with that status, so he had no other option.’
Five of the boat’s passengers were students, with the youngest being just 16. According to local media reports, some of the activists on the boat had been linked to a foiled bomb plot last December when two home-made devices, each packed with 11lb of high-grade explosives, were found by police.
Others within the group were said to be implicated the police seizure of weapons in Hong Kong, including a Glock semi-automatic pistol and 105 bullets.
More than 9,000 people have been arrested under the new security clampdown in Hong Kong.