Two pro-independence activists facing charges in Hong Kong have been granted political asylum in Germany, according to media reports.
Ray Wong and Alan Li were granted political asylum in May, according to reports in the New York Times, Reuters and Agence France-Presse (AFP).
They fled the city in 2017 while on bail pending charges of rioting during a 2016 street protest in support of street vendors, that came to be known as the "Fishball Revolution."
Hong Kong's secretary for justice Teresa Cheng declined to confirm the report on Wednesday.
"I don't comment on the individual opinions of any newspaper," Cheng told reporters when asked about the case.
While secretary for security John Lee also declined to comment on individual cases, he said Hong Kong would be unlikely to pursue the two men any further.
"Absconding while on bail isn't on the list of 46 crimes eligible for extradition," Lee said. "
A Hong Kong police spokesman also declined to comment, saying they couldn't do so after charging someone.
Baggio Leung, spokesman for the pro-independence Hong Kong National Front, said the decision to grant asylum to Wong and Li showed Germany had lost confidence in Hong Kong's legal system.
"The legislature can't introduce legislation, nor can it keep it on the statute books," Leung said. "Law enforcement is under the control of an unelected administration, even to the point of appointing judges, eight out of 12 of whom are appointed by the chief executive."
"It's pretty easy for political figures to be prosecuted, and sentencing is particularly harsh," he said. "There is no equality before the law."
"If even countries like Germany that are a long way from Hong Kong are concerned about these things, and have lost confidence in our system, then maybe people here should think about that," Leung said.
Wong, who founded and led the group Hong Kong Indigenous to campaign for "separation" between the city and mainland China, faced charged of "rioting" in relation to his role in the "Fishball Revolution."
He told AFP on Wednesday that he hadn't dared to contact his family before his application was approved for fear that the Hong Kong authorities would be monitoring their phone calls.
He said he had decided to break his silence amid a bitter political row over proposed changes to Hong Kong's extradition law that would allow the rendition of people deemed criminal suspects by the ruling Chinese Communist Party to mainland China.
Civic Party leader and lawmaker Alvin Yeung accused the administration of Carrie Lam of sacrificing Hong Kong's international reputation as a city ruled by law to demands from Beijing, which has insisted that the extradition laws be amended as a matter of urgency.
"When Western countries start allowing Hong Kong people to apply for political asylum and approving them, it shows that foreign governments probably harbor a huge amount of doubt that political dissidents in Hong Kong will receive fair treatment," Yeung said.
"It seems as if the administration of Carrie Lam cares a lot more about their political credibility in Beijing," he said.
Andy Chan, former leader of the now-banned pro-independence Hong Kong National Party, said it is clear that the city is now in trouble.
"This has to do with questions about human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Hong Kong," Chan said. "Great care is taken with political asylum applications, so I am sure that they have ample evidence of the likely political repercussions [for Wong and Li)."
"Given that Germany is such an important country in Western Europe, this sends out a very strong signal," he said.
Hong Kong's best-known independence activist Edward Leung was jailed for six years in 2018 for his role in the "Fishball Revolution."
Wong told AFP that his political stance has changed now, however.
"Now I won't advocate Hong Kong independence," he said. "I think the most important thing for Hong Kong is its human rights situation."
Wong took part in, but later rejected the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy movement, which waged a peaceful 79-day civil disobedience campaign for fully democratic elections.
He founded Hong Kong Indigenous to campaign for "separation" between Hong Kong and mainland China.
Extradition law row
The ruling Chinese Communist Party's Hong Kong liaison office last week called for the speedy passage of the amended law, which has sparked a bitter procedural row in the city's Legislative Council (LegCo).
Last month, thousands of people took to the streets in protest at the law, which will allow the Hong Kong government to grant extradition requests on a case-by case basis with no meaningful judicial oversight, to countries with which it lacks an extradition treaty.
The most likely jurisdiction to use the proposed provision is mainland China, which currently has no extradition treaty with Hong Kong.
Democratic Party founder Martin Lee last week warned a congressional hearing in the U.S. that anyone living in Hong Kong or traveling there could be sent to face charges in China, once the law is passed.
The business community has also warned that the new arrangement would remove many of the existing legal protections for foreign investors and companies that have led to the city being treated as a separate jurisdiction from China.
The proposed amendments have been dubbed the "send to China" law, which sounds very similar in Cantonese to the words "final send-off," meaning a funeral.
Pro-democracy politicians have used protests and filibustering to try to delay its passage through the city's Legislative Council (LegCo), amid a bitter procedural row among lawmakers, a judicial review application and street protests.
Former colonial governor Chris Patten told Bloomberg on Wednesday that the extradition law amendments would be the "worst thing" to happen to the city since the 1997 handover.
"What the extradition law does is to destroy the firewall between rule of law in Hong Kong and what the Chinese diplomatically call 'rule by law' in China," Patten said. "And that means that there's no real distinction between the courts, the security services, and what the party wants to happen."
"So it's not surprising that this has caused as much alarm as it has in Hong Kong. I think it's the worst thing that has happened ... since 1997."
He added: "The Chinese have yet to prove that we can trust them."
The Hong Kong government claims that adequate safeguards are built into the legislation to prevent China from using the law for political purposes, as extradition to China would take place only after judicial review and a recommendation from Hong Kong's chief executive.
But lawyers say the "judicial review" is a mere procedural step during which judges would not examine the underlying evidence, and that the chief executive is subject to political pressure from the Chinese government, the group said.
And journalists have warned the law will be used as a political weapon against the media.
China is the world's second worst jailer of journalists, with at least 47 journalists in prison for their work on Dec. 1, 2018, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
A review by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission warned that the amended law could increase Hong Kong's political vulnerability and further erode the city's promised autonomy.
The report found that the bill would remove independent legislative oversight in the extradition process and undermine strong legal protections guaranteed in Hong Kong, leaving the city and its residents exposed to Beijing’s "weak legal system and politically motivated charges."
It said renditions under the proposed amendments could create "serious risks" to U.S. national security and economic interests.
Reported by Tam Siu-yin and Lee Wang-yam for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Gao Feng for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.