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Taiwanese authorities have granted a second visa extension to a bookseller from Hong Kong who is now wanted by China’s national security agency.
Lam Wing-kee, who used to run a bookstore in Hong Kong’s bustling Causeway Bay shopping precinct known among journalists and mainland visitors as the go-to place for titles banned in mainland China, is now in exile in Taiwan.
He hoped to start his life and business anew after his ordeal of spending 10 months in detention and being interrogated by Chinese agents.
Lam told Taiwanese politicians that he had been planning to settle in Taipei and reopen his Causeway Bay Bookstore in the city, and that he would need more leeway and time.
His appeal was accepted by Taiwan’s National Immigration Agency and Mainland Affairs Council, which agreed to extend his period of stay for another three months on humanitarian grounds. Lam’s tourist visa expired earlier this week.
Lam revealed the excesses of Chinese national security agents and how they snatched people from Hong Kong and overseas after he absconded from his investigators in 2016.
He fled to Taiwan this April, fearing he could again be abducted by Chinese agents in Hong Kong, where, theoretically, the city’s press and freedom of speech meant that selling politically-sensitive publications or salacious books about Chinese leaders would never be a crime.
Another push factor is an amendment bill proposed and then suspended by the Hong Kong government to change existing extradition laws to allow the rendition of wanted persons to mainland China.
Lam is still listed by the Chinese authorities as a fugitive because he did not return to the mainland to face trial.
“We all know the situation in Hong Kong has been deteriorating, and Lam has had some misfortunes,” said a spokesperson with the Mainland Affairs Council.
Lam said he would launch an online fundraising campaign to try to get the HK$500,000 (US$63,993) needed to open his bookstore, and if things go well, the store might open in December, most likely in Taipei’s Ximending commercial district.
Setting up a business or a joint venture by a foreigner can lead to a long-term residency permit and eventually right of abode.
Lam’s visa extension has given new hope to another group of youngsters from Hong Kong, who also made a beeline for Taiwan after they broke into and rampaged through the city’s Legislative Council complex on July 1 after a rally against the extradition bill ended in violence on the 22nd anniversary of the city’s handover from the UK.
It has been reported that nearly 30 of those who laid siege to the LegCo building, broke into the main chamber and defaced the Hong Kong emblem, have already flown the coop, even before the Hong Kong police could finish taking evidence inside the vandalized chamber for prosecution.
These protesters, mostly in their 20s, aim to seek asylum in Taiwan, and there are dozens of others thinking of following suit.
It is believed that many of these youngsters entered the island as tourists, as Taiwan maintains liberal entry requirements for Hongkongers, who can easily obtain their entry permit, and normally, they are permitted to remain for a month.
In other words, these protesters will have to start applying for extensions of stay with Taiwanese authorities or risk overstaying.
The Mainland Affairs Council said earlier this month that it would deal with related applications in accordance with human rights’ principles. “(We) can provide necessary assistance to Hong Kong residents whose safety and freedom are in urgent danger due to political reasons,” it said.
Taiwanese papers also reported that charities on the island had been looking after about 10 protesters.
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen has also weighed in, saying that the “friends from Hong Kong” would be treated in a proper and humanitarian way.
Still, the fact that Taiwanese lawmakers are dragging out the passage of the island’s refugee law means Lam and his compatriots cannot be considered dissidents or émigrés due to the legal void. And, these protesters may not be able to produce proof of political prosecution when the Hong Kong government is yet to lay charges against them.