An app that connects Hong Kongers exiled in Britain

A Hong Konger in the United Kingdom recently launched an app to help other migrants from the city find pro-democracy businesses and services in exile amid ongoing threats and surveillance from agents and supporters of Beijing.
The “Hongkonger” app is similar to the Mee app that once helped supporters of the 2019 protest movement find and support businesses in the city that were sympathetic to their cause, but which have since been targeted by the authorities under a draconian national security law.
With a welcome screen showing a bunch of cheerful and bespectacled young people in front of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, the app welcomes users to "connect with professionals" and "plant the seeds of kindness." 
It then offers the user classified ads, shop and small business listings, restaurants, artists and craftspeople, healthcare, emotional support and personal services, based on the user"s geographical location.
It is aimed at more than 172,000 Hong Kongers who have settled in the country since the British government launched its British National Overseas visa pathway to citizenship, which prompted China to stop recognizing the Hong Kong BNO passport in protest in January 2021.
A group of people bid farewell as their friend leaves for the United Kingdom at the Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong, June 30, 2021. Credit: Tyrone Siu/Reuters
Classes and things to do are also in among the listings, which app author “Jay” said are intended to create a sense of community among Hong Kongers who have recently emigrated to the United Kingdom.
"We all crossed mountains to get to the U.K.," said Jay, who gave a pseudonym for fear of reprisals. "I hope we will now support each other and that we will now be able to see each other."
"Everyone is scaling the mountain in their own way," he said, in a reference to a strategy of the 2019 protest movement allowing people to take different approaches to working for freedom and democracy.
‘Long arm’ law enforcement
The escalating crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong, which saw warrants and bounties placed on the heads of eight prominent overseas activists in early July, has sparked international criticism of the authorities" ongoing attempts at "long-arm" law enforcement overseas.
Hong Kong"s three-year-old national security law bans public criticism of the authorities as “incitement of hatred,” and applies to speech or acts committed by people of any nationality, anywhere in the world. It has prompted a mass exodus of permanent residents from the city.
In the United Kingdom, Hong Kongers have been calling on the British government to sanction officials linked to human rights violations in the city they once called home, despite apparent attempts at sabotage and the threat of violence by supporters of the Chinese Communist Party.
Against that background, Jay"s project is a call to stand together and to boost Hong Kongers" visibility – at least to each other.
Jay, who once taught math in a Hong Kong school and now works for a government-funded organization, wrote the code and produced the artwork with the help of the ChatGPT AI chatbot and the AI artmaker Midjourney, he said.
"I"d been paying close attention to the way artificial intelligence was developing for the past seven years," he said. "I had no knowledge or experience in this area, so when the app was successfully launched, I was moved to tears."
‘Yellow Pages’
Jay said the app is intended as a kind of "Yellow Pages" for Hong Kongers in Britain to find each other. The parallel also plays on the "yellow economic circle" of pro-democracy businesses in Hong Kong, that has been increasingly targeted under the national security law and colonial-era sedition laws.
"People from all walks of life have come to the U.K., including a lot of teachers, healthcare workers, accountants, utilities workers, builders and decorators," he said. "There are a lot of people like me who weren"t able to continue in their old jobs."
"It"s not always so easy for Hong Kongers to find services, so I hope this will be a platform that helps everyone find each other," Jay said.
Chief Superintendent of Police (National Security) Li Kwai-wah speaks during a press conference to issue arrest warrants for eight activists and former lawmakers, in Hong Kong, July 3, 2023. Credit: Joyce Zhou/Reuters
Asked if he sees himself as part of the "yellow economic circle," Jay said he hopes his app doesn"t put anyone at risk.
"Clearly there is an erosion of freedom in Hong Kong, and I"m unhappy watching the news," he said. "We all see ridiculous things, and they keep happening every day."
"Our app only works in the United Kingdom and doesn"t extend to Hong Kong for now," he said. "I hope that makes it safe for the time being."
But he said uptake of the app, which came soon after Hong Kong officials likened the eight wanted overseas activists to "rats crossing the street" and vowed to pursue them for the rest of their lives, had been less than enthusiastic.
Under scrutiny
U.K.-based Finn Lau, who is among the eight, said he feels he is under constant surveillance, even overseas.
"I have to be more careful, both online and in real life, and check to see if I"m being followed," Lau told Radio Free Asia in a recent interview. "I rarely reveal my location on social media."
"This is something I do every day now," he said, adding that he had been approached by a person claiming to be a reporter for Radio Free Asia during the 20th party congress in October 2022, but had declined after finding out that the "reporter" was fake.
He has also been targeted on social media, with 60 or 70 attempts to steal his identity on X, including his profile photo.
"There was a campaign to spread false information [about me] that initially deceived some people who knew me, who thought I had a new account," Lau said. "Then they asked me about it later, so it was exposed [as fake]."
Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.


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