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Hong Kong democracy activist in Vancouver as bounty issued for arrest

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A democracy activist who is in Vancouver, B.C., to promote his plan for a Hong Kong parliament in exile said he was unafraid after the Chinese territory issued a bounty for his arrest over the proposal.

Elmer Yuen nevertheless called on the Canadian government to abolish its extradition treaty with Hong Kong, in light of the $170,000 rewards offered for the arrests of Yuen and seven other activists in the United States, Britain, and Australia.

Ottawa joined peers in condemning the move on Wednesday, with Global Affairs Canada sharing a message on Twitter that it was “gravely concerned” by Hong Kong seeking to apply its national security law outside the territory, saying it undermines democratic rights and freedoms.

Yuen, 74, lives in the United States but is a frequent traveller to Canada. He has been staying in Vancouver for several days to encourage people to support his goal of electing a Hong Kong parliament outside the territory and encourage the federal government to endorse the plan.

He said the reward, offered by Hong Kong police on Monday, had inspired him to fly from San Francisco to Vancouver to promote the plan at meetings with Hong Kong immigrants.

“My whole idea of this traveling is to get everyone to vote in order to run for the members of parliament. So that's what I'm doing. I'm not scared,” he said in an interview.

He said news of the reward for his arrest would help to spread his message.

“Because this warrant for my arrest is everywhere, at least one million people got news of what's happening about the Hong Kong parliament,” said Yuen at a coffee shop on Vancouver's Robson Street.

Canada's extradition treaty was suspended in 2020 after the introduction of the national security law, but Yuen said it should be entirely scrapped “immediately.”

Yuen launched the parliament-in-exile plan in Toronto a year ago alongside Vancouver journalist Victor Ho, with the goal of holding a symbolic online election in late 2023 or early 2024.

The parliament is meant to reflect the democratic power of Hong Kongersafter crackdowns on civil liberties in Hong Kong and sweeping electoral changes there since 2019, Yuen said.

“I want the Canadian government to recognize the Hong Kong parliament. That's the most important (thing). I am on a mission and my mission is to fight the Communist party and you cannot fight as an individual,” said Yuen.

“You must have the organization and the organization is (the) Hong Kong parliament.”

Yuen said he was holding meetings with Hong Kongers in Vancouver and Richmond, before returning to the U.S. on Thursday.

Yuen, whose late father lived in Vancouver, said he frequently vacationed in the city.

He said he will travel to Taiwan, Australia and Britain to promote the parliament-in-exile plan.

“If they want to fight for the freedom of Hong Kong, the best thing is to vote. You don't have a gun, you don't have anything. So, your weapon for democracy and freedom is your vote,” said Yuen.

Hong Kong police said the parliament plan represents a subversion of state power and also accuse Yuen of collusion with a foreign country to endanger security, in breach of the national security law. The other seven activists face similar charges.

Hong Kong police added that providing financial assistance to the suspects could also violate the national security law.

Hong Kong's national security law restricts civil liberties in the territory, which is a special administrative region within China but was guaranteed certain democratic freedoms when Britain handed over the former colony in 1997.

Edmonton-born Dennis Kwok, who renounced his Canadian citizenship when he became a Hong Kong legislator in 2012, is also on the bounty list.

He left office as the national security law came into force in 2020, and a media release from the Hong Kong police noted that he has since advocated for sanctions against officials in China and Hong Kong.

Ottawa's statement on Wednesday came after Britain, Australia and the U.S. condemned the bounties, though it was unclear if any countries will implement sanctions or suspend co-operation with the territory in response.

China's Foreign Ministry accused other countries of “meddling” in Hong Kong, with spokeswoman Mao Ning telling reporters these countries were “providing a safe haven for fugitives.”

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee said Tuesday that the activists would be pursued for life over the alleged national security offences. Hong Kong security chief Chris Tang said authorities are seeking to freeze and confiscate assets held by the eight activists.

- With files from The Associated Press

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2023.

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