A year ago, Sixtus Leung was busy helping Hong Kong protesters escape from a university campus besieged by police.
Now, after arriving in the U.S. on Nov. 30, he is seeking asylum and lobbying U.S. lawmakers for more support for young activists who want to leave Hong Kong.
“Everybody in my circle is frightened,” said the 34-year-old former leader of a political party that advocated self-determination for Hong Kong. “But Hong Kong is not yielding.”
Mr. Leung is part of a wave of activists fleeing the city, saying they fear activism is no longer tolerated since China imposed a national security law in June. The asylum seekers are likely to increase tensions between China and countries that accept them.
This month, another former legislator and a church pastor and his family made it to the U.K., saying they feared prosecution in Hong Kong for their political actions. Others have headed to Germany and Taiwan.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has vowed to protect Hong Kong activists overseas and recently condemned the jailing of some pro-democracy campaigners as political persecution. President-elect Joe Biden’s national security adviser nominee, Jake Sullivan, expressed support this week for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists on Twitter, pledging “to help those persecuted find safe haven.”
China’s Foreign Ministry has criticized foreign nations and politicians for giving refuge to activists, some of whom face criminal charges over last year’s protests.
Mr. Leung said he has cut ties with family members and resigned from Youngspiration, a political party that he co-founded in Hong Kong in 2014. After being elected to the city’s legislature in 2016, he was disqualified for altering his oath, following a ruling from Beijing.
In September, he served four weeks in prison after losing an appeal against an illegal-assembly conviction for barging into the chamber after his disqualification.
The police have stepped up arrests and prosecutions of higher-profile activists involved in last year’s unrest, and investigations by national security police are increasing. One escape attempt by 12 activists facing charges was intercepted by Chinese authorities. Another group tried to seek refuge at the U.S. diplomatic mission in the city.
Last week, a post to former Hong Kong lawmaker Ted Hui’s Facebook page said he had exiled himself in Britain following a trip to Denmark. The U.K., which handed sovereignty of Hong Kong back to China in 1997, has become a base for several leading Hong Kong pro-democracy campaigners. It has also offered a path to citizenship for the roughly three million people born in Hong Kong before the transfer of power.
Mr. Hui was a common presence during protests, often with a megaphone in hand confronting the police. Prosecutors in Hong Kong have brought Mr. Hui to court multiple times on various charges related to the protests.
“I’ll continue to speak out for Hong Kong,” he wrote. Mr. Hui was one of 19 opposition legislators to quit last month after Beijing disqualified four colleagues it considered disloyal to China.
A Danish politician later said on Facebook that he helped fabricate a climate-change meeting as a pretense for Mr. Hui’s visit.
Shortly after Mr. Hui disclosed he was in exile, the Hong Kong police froze accounts held by him and his family at several banks including HSBC Holdings PLC. A national security officer said the move was part of an investigation into allegations of embezzlement related to crowdfunding that Mr. Hui organized and that the statement he posted on social media was a violation of the national security law.
This week, police also froze HSBC accounts affiliated with a Christian church that helped protesters. Its pastor, Roy Chan, and his wife are now in the U.K. with their children. Police allege the couple used a donation scheme that concealed more than $2 million.
Messrs. Hui and Chan said their accounts have been audited and made public, and denied any wrongdoing. Mr. Chan said he considered it unsafe to return home.
Their supporters in Hong Kong accused the banks of acting unfairly at the behest of the police. HSBC said it has to abide by the laws of the jurisdiction in which it operates.
From Washington, Mr. Leung said he is seeking international punishment of Hong Kong’s banks for such actions.
He said several of his friends face legal trouble. One of his former associates was charged with weapons possession after she was arrested for allegedly helping in the failed sea escape.
Their situation “made the decision to leave more difficult,” Mr. Leung said.
Write to Wenxin Fan at Wenxin.Fan@wsj.com
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