‘Doing this interview puts a target on us’
Charlie, Kevin and Sam - their real names have been withheld for anonymity - only agreed to speak to news.com.au if they were unidentifiable - using masks, altering the pitch of their voice and being introduced with pseudonyms.
"Even doing this interview is putting a target on our heads," Charlie said.
"Some people are constantly monitoring what we're doing, in the city there are so many people that you never know who's who."
The three of them are Sydney-based activists, and the reason they're at risk is for speaking out against the controversial new security laws in Hong Kong.
It might sound far-fetched, but alleged Chinese state surveillance at events organised by NSW HongKongers, a collective of Hong Kong expats and Australian citizens, has propelled fears for their safety.
Chinese agents were loitering outside the 'Art of Defiance' exhibition earlier this year, which displayed works related to the democracy movement in Hong Kong, according to Charlie.
"We do feel like some people are constantly maybe monitoring what we're doing," she said.
"There are still a lot of Chinese spies in Sydney and I don't think it's safe."
The stakes are high for these Hong Kong citizens, if they return home, they fear they will be jailed for involvement in rallies supporting the pro-democracy movement.
"I organised a lot of protests in Australia, and also in Hong Kong… maybe I will be arrested if I arrive in Hong Kong," Kevin said.
Beijing's imposition of the new legislation, which bypassed the city's local parliament, allows the government to enforce punishment up to life in prison for any act of "secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces."
The legislation stifles freedoms and is capable of "being applied in a manner that is arbitrary", according to the Bar Association of Hong Kong.
"You shouldn't be left guessing," Philip Dykes, chairperson of the Hong Kong Bar Association told Agence France-Presse.
"Although the advantage to leave people guessing is that they will be more cautious and less willing to speak out. That may be what was desired," he said.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam dismissed criticism of the law, saying it is a necessary measure to ensure "long-term stability and prosperity."
"This law will restore stability to Hong Kong," she said.
"I forewarn those radicals not to attempt to violate this law, or cross the red line, because the consequences of breaching this law are very serious."
For Charlie, Kevin and Sam, Hong Kong as they knew it has disappeared and the law is a huge blow to the civil liberties that set the city apart from the mainland.
"Hong Kong is becoming a part of China. I mean, truly becoming a part of China as we cannot enjoy freedom of speech anymore in Hong Kong," Kevin said.
"When you go through the detail of the law, you will find that you lost every single freedom, and then you will find that Hong Kong becomes absolutely a police state," Sam said.
"Before we would have said [Hong Kong] is dying, but now after the new law, it's dead."
Originally published as 'Doing this interview puts a target on us'