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Where Are Hong Kong’s Leading Pro-Democracy Figures Now?

In 2019, Hong Kong erupted into the most stunning expression of public anger with Beijing in decades. Protesters broke into the legislature and vandalized it. They bought full-page advertisements in international newspapers, criticizing the government. Lawmakers hurled unsavory objects in meetings to protest unpopular bills.

In the years since then, China has waged an expansive crackdown on Hong Kong to crush the opposition. Beijing directly imposed a national security law on the city in 2020 that gave the authorities a powerful tool to round up critics, including a prominent pro-democracy media tycoon.

So when Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing lawmakers passed a new security law on Tuesday that expanded the authorities’ power even more, the vote was virtually unopposed. The most vocal pro-democracy activists and lawmakers are now either in prison or self-imposed exile.

Chow Hang Tung was a human rights lawyer representing other activists on trial for national security offenses, until she herself was arrested in 2021.

Now, she says, she had no other option but to “become a columnist,” writing open letters from jail, which are then posted online by her friends. She has also filed several legal appeals, writing statements to the court by hand because she had no access to a computer or the internet.

Recently, Ms. Chow has taken aim at Hong Kong’s new security legislation, saying that officials were trying to blame the turbulence it had experienced on ordinary people and vague “foreign forces.”

She faces multiple charges, including some under the 2020 national security law, related to her role in organizing a candlelight vigil commemorating victims of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown in Beijing.

Being in jail has not stopped her from trying to speak out. Ms. Chow has tried to use her many court appearances as platforms from which to criticize Beijing, including over its longstanding repression of the Tiananmen Mothers, a group representing victims of the massacre.

Ted Hui was known for being a confrontational lawmaker.

In 2020, he hurled a foul-smelling rotting plant onto the floor of the legislative chamber to protest a bill making it a crime to disrespect the Chinese anthem. At street rallies, he used his megaphone to warn riot police not to hurt protesters; one officer responded by firing pepper spray into Mr. Hui’s eyes.

Mr. Hui was arrested in 2020 and accused of unlawful assembly and other charges. He managed to flee to Copenhagen with the help of two Danish politicians, and was later joined by his family.

At first, the authorities froze his family’s bank accounts. But they later backed down because of an outcry, and Mr. Hui was able to recover his family’s savings.

Mr. Hui is one of around a dozen high-profile pro-democracy activists whom the authorities regard as “absconders.” The new security law now prohibits any attempt to help “absconders” access their assets or property.

“Hong Kongers should be prepared to expect that what has happened to me could become a part of everyday life for regular residents,” he said in a phone interview from Adelaide, Australia, where he and his family have settled.

Claudia Mo was among 47 pro-democracy leaders charged with “conspiracy to commit subversion” after taking part in an unofficial primary election.

Prosecutors cited television interviews and WhatsApp messages with journalists from The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times as evidence against her. Ms. Mo has been behind bars for more than three years and is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty.

According to a former lawmaker who visits Ms. Mo in jail, she has been studying French and teaching English to fellow detainees, including the finer points of figures of speech like “tell me about it” and “over the moon.”

Ms. Mo, a former journalist, was known as a moderate in the pro-democracy camp. When masked young protesters stormed the Legislative Council with makeshift battering rams in 2019, Ms. Mo was among a number of veteran politicians urging the demonstrators to stop.

“Please ask if it’s worth it,” she told one protester. “Think about your mother.”

Jimmy Lai, one of the most outspoken critics of China’s Communist Party, is on trial on national security charges.

For years, China’s state-controlled media outlets have denounced him as a “C.I.A. agent.” Prosecutors have portrayed him as the master conspirator behind the 2019 protests that roiled Hong Kong. Mr. Lai has pleaded not guilty.

Mr. Lai, who was born on the mainland and moved to Hong Kong at age 12, made his fortune from clothing. But after the Tiananmen massacre, Mr. Lai became a publisher, launching the Apple Daily newspaper in 1995 that became a platform for pro-democracy voices.

After Beijing imposed the 2020 security law, the authorities raided Apple Daily’s offices and arrested Mr. Lai. The newspaper was forced to close in 2021 after several top editors and writers and a senior executive of Mr. Lai’s media group were also charged with “conspiracy to commit collusion” with foreign forces. Those former employees have pleaded guilty.

“I believe in the media, by delivering information, you’re actually delivering freedom,” Mr. Lai said in an interview in 2020 with The Times.

Nathan Law was a student leader in 2014 protests known as the Umbrella Movement, which called for freer elections. He became the city’s youngest elected lawmaker at age 23 but was quickly disqualified. And in 2017, he was jailed on charges of inciting the 2014 street protests.

Mr. Law escaped Hong Kong shortly before the passage of the security law and was granted asylum in Britain in 2021.

He is now one of the most prominent young Hong Kong activists abroad, often testifying before American and European lawmakers.

Recently, he organized Hong Kong March, a monthlong cultural festival featuring film screenings, calligraphy classes and fairs in various cities in England. He is the founder of Hong Kong Umbrella Community, a nonprofit focused on the Hong Kong diaspora.

“I think having that independent cultural work is crucial to preserve our identity and history and sense of community,” he said in a phone interview. “Though we will undoubtedly be less connected to the one in Hong Kong, we can at least be more connected to the one overseas.”

Anna Kwok, a Hong Kong activist based in Washington, is one of 13 overseas dissidents the Hong Kong government has targeted with bounties of about $130,000 and promised to pursue “for life.” (The others include Mr. Law and Mr. Hui.)

She had helped the protesters in 2019 from afar, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars anonymously as part of a crowdfunding campaign to pay for front-page newspaper advertisements criticizing the government.

She later became executive director of the Hong Kong Democracy Council and urged the U.S. government to bar John Lee, Hong Kong’s leader, from attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in San Francisco in November. She traveled to the summit to protest the attendance of Xi Jinping, China’s leader.

In a phone interview, Ms. Kwok said she was disheartened that the new security law had passed with no objection or protest. She worried that future generations would forget that many of the city’s residents had once fought hard for democracy.

“No matter how unfree the environment is, we can still keep our minds free,” she said. “And, that is the freedom we have to preserve.”

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