HONG KONG - Hong Kong's government on Friday hit out at "countries who harbor criminals," after exiled former pro-democracy lawmaker Nathan Law said he had been granted political asylum by the United Kingdom.

Law, 27, tweeted earlier this week that he had been approved as a political asylum-seeker by the Home Office following a series of intervies over four months.

The Hong Kong government said on Friday that it opposed the "harboring of criminals" by other countries, regions, organizations, or individuals.

Apparently dispensing with Hong Kong's rule-of-law principle that the accused are presumed innocent until proven guilty, it said "criminals [were alleging] that they were prosecuted for political reasons to deliberately escape justice."

"Any country, region, organisation or individual that harbours Hong Kong criminals in any form shows contempt for the rule of law, grossly disrespects Hong Kong's legal systems and barbarically interferes in the affairs of Hong Kong," it said, in comments closely resembling those made by a foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing on Thursday.

"They shall eventually bear the consequences of what they have done," it said.

Beijing on Thursday accused the U.K. of "harboring criminals" after Law's asylum status was confirmed.

"The UK is clearly a platform for Hong Kong independence agitators, and provides so-called shelter for wanted criminals," foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular news briefing in Beijing.

"The UK should immediately correct its mistake, and stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs and China's internal affairs," Zhao said.

Law said it was precisely the fact that he was wanted under the draconian national security law, that was imposed by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on Hong Kong from July 1, 2020, that led to his being considered at risk by the British government.

"The fact that I am wanted under the National Security Law shows that I am exposed to severe political persecution and am unlikely to return to Hong Kong without risk," Law wrote, citing the decision letter he received from the Home Office.

He also called on the Home Office to consider accepting a broader range of evidence for Hong Kong applications.


A chilling effect


Amnesty International said the national security law had "greatly restrict[ed] freedom of expression and other human rights in the city."

"The chilling effect of the NSL on Hong Kong civil society has been rapid and deeply disturbing," the report, issued by the Hong Kong branch of the London-based rights group, said.

Two days after the law was passed, the Hong Kong government declared that the 2019 protest slogan 'Free Hong Kong, Revolution Now!" constituted an offense under clauses in the law banning pro-secessionist words and deeds, the report said.

"Individuals and businesses that had shown support for the 2019 protest movement deleted their social media posts and accounts for fear of retaliation from the authorities," it said.

The law granted sweeping new investigatory powers to police, including the power to impose travel bans, to search people's homes, to freeze or seize their assets, and to place them under surveillance without a court order, the report said.

Authorities in Hong Kong ruled on Friday that Tam Tak-chi, the detained vice chairman of the opposition party People Power, could be tried for sedition in the District Court, with no jury, despite arguments from his defense team that the court would have no jurisdiction in national security cases.

Tam was arrested in September 2020 for using the protest slogans "Free Hong Kong, Revolution Now!" and "Five demands, not one less!" while giving speeches on the streets of Kowloon between March and July.

Tam is also accused of shouting: "Dirty cops, hope your family members all die!" and of making complaints relating to police inaction during a July 21, 2019 mob attack on train passengers in Yuen Long, and to riot police attacks on passengers in Prince Edward MTR station on Aug. 31, 2019.