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Why this pro-democracy Hong Kong activist decided to flee his home

The reverberations from China’s new national security law, which restricts freedom of speech in Hong Kong, continue. Nathan Law is a prominent pro-democracy activist who fled Hong Kong after the crackdown. He joins Nick Schifrin to discuss what protesters on the ground need from the international community, whether he has hope for Hong Kong's future and the challenge of deciding to leave his home.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The shockwaves caused by China's new national security law have continued to reverberate around the world and in Hong Kong.

    Nick Schifrin spoke today with one activist who fled after the crackdown.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Long before the national security law, the Chinese Communist Party targeted Hong Kong residents it considered anti-Beijing. That included, back in 2016, the youngest resident ever elected to the legislative council, then-23-year-old Nathan Law.

  • Nathan Law:

    Autonomy, democracy and rule of law have always been our core values.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Last summer, Law and other pro-democracy activists visited Washington to push Congress to sanction senior Chinese communist officials. And he sat down with me for an interview with fellow activist Denise Ho.

  • Nathan Law:

    I promised to my constituency that I will not obey a regime that brutally kills its people. I will keep my promise in my campaign that I will serve the people, instead of the regime.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    This week, speaking via video link, he continued to push Congress to act.

  • Nathan Law:

    So much is now lost in the city I love, the freedom to tell the truth.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But after Hong Kong police, empowered by that new security law, arrested activists not just for what they did, but what they said, about Hong Kong independence, Law resigned from his prominent pro-democracy group and went into hiding.

    And Nathan Law joins me now from an undisclosed location.

    Why did you feel like you had to leave Hong Kong?

  • Nathan Law:

    Well, the national security law actually largely limits the international advocacy work in Hong Kong, because it will basically put everyone in jail for advocating legislations in the other countries that hold China accountable.

    If you ask for sanctions, you will be indicted, and it will be like years of imprisonment.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The law is very specific, not only about what you just said about working with other countries, but also the nature of what people can say in Hong Kong, that people can be arrested for talking about Hong Kong independence, more than just any actions that they actually make.

    How much of a chill does that language have on activism in Hong Kong?

  • Nathan Law:

    The law kills the freedom of expression or even freedom of thought of Hong Kong people.

    The kind of chilling effect or terror that Beijing government wanted to impose is at the expense of our freedom of expression. So, I think, while this law will completely change Hong Kong, people are not free anymore to express their political opinion, and the one-country/two-systems is basically dead.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Do you believe that there's anything people within Hong Kong can do, or outside, to actually change Beijing's decision about the future of Hong Kong?

  • Nathan Law:

    The future looks like very grim or bleak.

    But I think the situation is always very dynamic. Beijing is always suffering from numerous pressure, no matter domestically or internationally. And they have got a lot of domestic problems. China is not as strong as we predicted 10 years ago, and there's a lot of problems.

    And the international community realizes that. And if you see it in that way, I don't feel like we are entirely hopeless now. There are still possibilities for change.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    There are many bills that the U.S. Congress is debating today on what to do to respond to Beijing's national security law. One of them that passed yesterday would mandate sanctions on Chinese officials involved in the Hong Kong crackdown.

    Will that help?

  • Nathan Law:

    These kind of sanctions toward officials are very effective, actually.

    But this is only one side of the coin. The other side is how we can help the people on the ground in Hong Kong that — risking years of imprisonment, but also fighting against the authoritarian country.

    And it lies to how the international community could join hands together to form a united front to fight against the authoritarian expansion of Chinese Communist Party.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Over the last few days, I have talked to many Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, including members of the organization that you were in until this week.

    Do you fear, now that you have left, that you somehow abandoned them?

  • Nathan Law:

    So, for me, doing international advocacy work is what I'm good at and what I have been doing.

    And I have attended several congressional hearings, meeting a lot of think tanks and NGOs in the U.S. to explain Hong Kong's situation. That is definitely one of the things that I could contribute the most to the movement. And I think Hong Kong people will understand that.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    You moved to Hong Kong as a child. You lived there for more than two decades. How difficult was it to make the decision to have to leave?

  • Nathan Law:

    Yes, that is definitely one of the toughest choice that I have ever made in my whole life.

    Fleeing out to work on international advocacy work, well, basically means that Beijing would target you, and you could possibly — banned from going back for a long period of time. And it means that you have left behind your families, your connections, or even the two cats that you have.

    But I see it as a responsibility and a duty for me to Hong Kong and to the movement.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Nathan Law, thank you very much.

  • Nathan Law:

    Thank you very much.

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