Taipei (Reuters) – A small but growing number of Hong Kong protesters who fled to Taiwan for safety over the past few months fear an opposition victory in the island’s election this week will put them in peril and force them to leave.
The mostly young men and women who came to Taiwan after taking part in increasingly violent protests in support of democracy in Hong Kong have no legal way to gain permanent asylum, but President Tsai Ing-wen’s broadly sympathetic government has allowed about 60 of them to temporarily extend their stay.
Some of those protesters fear that support will vanish if the Jan. 11 election is won by Han Kuo-yu, the presidential candidate for Taiwan’s Kuomintang opposition party, which favours close ties with China.
“If Han Kuo-yu is elected, I will buy a flight ticket and flee to another country right away,” a protestor in his early 30s who asked only to be identified as Jero told Reuters.
Jero said he flew to Taiwan on a tourist visa days after he took part in the storming of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council on July 1 fearing he could be charged with rioting, which carries a maximum prison term of 10 years.
He now lives in a small studio in Taipei funded by a network of local activists supporting the protesters.
The issue of Hong Kong has played a large role in Taiwan’s election campaign. Tsai has vowed to defend the island’s sovereignty and has rejected China’s suggestion of a “one country, two systems” political formula, saying it has failed in Hong Kong.
Han, who says he wants to forge strong ties with Beijing and met with Hong Kong’s embattled leader Carrie Lam and senior Chinese officials last year, has accused Tsai of using the Hong Kong protests to whip up fears of China for electoral gain.
Both Tsai and Han have voiced support for Hong Kong protesters. But the prospect of a Han presidency is more concerning to the protesters.
“Hong Kong people are fighting against the Chinese Communist Party, but how could we convince ourselves that the Kuomintang is also against the Communist Party?” said a protester called Roger, whose tourist visa has been extended twice since his arrival in Taiwan in July.
Jacob Lin, a Taipei-based lawyer who is part of a team that has been offering legal assistance to protesters seeking residency in Taiwan since mid-summer, said many protesters are worried about a change of political control.
“If the ruling party is replaced, the treatment for protesters may be quite different,” he said, referring to Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
Responding to protesters’ concerns about a Han victory, Han spokeswoman Anne Wang urged Hong Kong protesters not to be used by the DPP for electoral gain.
“I hope they have a true understanding of Mr. Han’s insistence on the value of democracy and freedom,” she said. “He’s solely against provocation, conflict and war, but he’s in full support of Hong Kong’s democracy and freedom.”
Hong Kong’s Security Bureau told Reuters in a statement that those accused of breaking the law in the city will have an open and fair trial, and any accusation of politically motivated prosecutions are “unfounded.”