The original version of this report was written in Chinese and published on inmediahk.net on December 3, 2023. The following English translation is published on Global Voices under a content partnership with inmediahk.net.
Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow broke her silence after being released from jail in June 2021 and announced that she would not return to the city in December, as was required by the Hong Kong police's bail term.
The activist revealed that she had left Hong Kong in September to study in Canada and would not be returning to Hong Kong.
On her 27th birthday on December 3, Chow revealed her decision to skip bail on her Instagram. She had originally bought a ticket to return to Hong Kong in December but decided against the move out of fear for her safety:
I probably won't go back for the rest of my life… I don't want to be forced to do things I don't want to do, and I don't want to be forced to go to mainland China anymore. If I go on like this, even if I am safe, my body and mind will collapse.
Agnes Chow was a member of Scholarism. At the age of 16, she served as the organization's spokesperson during the anti-national education protests in 2012 against the introduction of national education into elementary school curriculum. She also co-founded Demosisto, along with Joshua Wong and Nathan Law, in 2016 and served as the political party's founding deputy secretary general. In 2018, Chow renounced her British citizenship in order to run for the Legislative Council by-election for the Hong Kong Island constituency on behalf of Demosisto. But her candidacy was disqualified.
On June 21 2020, Chow received a 10-month prison sentence, along with other activists, including Joshua Wong and Ivan Lam, for participating and inciting others to participate in an illegal assembly on June 21, 2019 during the 2019 pro-democracy protests. She was released on June 12 2021.
In August 2020, while she was appealing her 10-month prison sentence, she faced another charge of “collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security” under the National Security Law (NSL). Hence, after her release from prison in June 2021, she was still required to regularly report to the national security authorities and her passport was confiscated.
She said on her Instagram that whenever she had to report to the police according to her bail terms, she feared that she would be rearrested:
Even after I returned safely back home, I always imagined that the national security police would knock on my door early one morning, as they did the last time, trying to pick the locks and break in, and citing another law to take me away again. […] And there was nothing I could do, nothing I could do except cry, break down, tremble, or talk to my friends about my fears.
She disclosed that a medical doctor diagnosed her with anxiety, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. With this in mind, she decided to apply for an international master's program.
After being admitted to a Canadian university earlier this year, she filed her application to the national security authorities to get their permission to leave the city. She submitted all the necessary information and explained her study plan to the authorities. Later, the authorities asked her to write a letter of repentance, which stated that she regretted her past political involvement and would not participate in any other political activities again, nor would she contact any other political activists, particularly members of Scholarism and Demosisto.
Chow complied with the requests as she only wanted to leave Hong Kong for her study.
In July, the national security authorities told Chow that if she wanted to study in Canada, she would have to travel to mainland China with the security officers’ accompany. She was promised that she would get her passport back upon the completion of the trip.
Eventually, escorted by five national security officers, Chow spent one day in Shenzhen and was taken to the “Reform and Opening Exhibition” and Tencent's headquarters.
During the trip, she was asked to take photos with displays at the exhibition. As she decided to leave Hong Kong, she could speak out against her fear:
If I keep silent, those pictures might have become evidence of my ‘patriotism’ one day -The fear is so concrete. It's just ironic that I was forced to go to mainland China in exchange for a chance to go abroad to study, while many Hong Kong people cross the border to spend their money and have fun.
After the trip, the national security authorities also requested she write a letter to “thank the police for the arrangement so that I can understand the great development of the motherland.”
Eventually, she managed to leave Hong Kong for Toronto in mid-September.
Chow said she was scheduled to return to Hong Kong at the end of December to report to the police, but she changed her mind after settling in Toronto:
Considering the situation in Hong Kong, my own safety, physical and mental health… I have decided not to go back to report to the police, and I probably won't go back for the rest of my life.
She explained that even if the national security authorities did not arrest her or take away her passport upon her return to Hong Kong, she believed that they would impose conditions or ask questions, as they did before, and that she would need to meet their demands in order to return back to her study in Canada. Chow was relieved after she made her decision:
我終於不用再為會否被捕而擔憂，也可以說想說的話、做想做的事了 […] 自由來得不易，在擔驚受怕的日常中，更加珍惜所有沒有遺忘自己，關心自己、愛自己的人。願我們能在不久的將來重聚，好好擁抱彼此。
Finally, I don't have to worry about whether I will be arrested or not, and I can say what I want to say and do what I want to do […] Freedom is not easy to come by, and in the midst of the fear and panic, I treasure all the people who have not forgotten me, who care about me, and who love me even more. I hope we can reunite in the near future and embrace each other.
In a statement issued on December 4, the Hong Kong police condemned Chow for “challenging the rule of law”:
The police appealed to the person concerned to pull back before it is too late and not to choose to take the road of no return and carry the name of “fugitive” for the rest of his life.
Hundreds of individuals who had been arrested for playing a part in the 2019 pro-democracy protests and national security related charges are living in tremendous stress under police bail. Some described themselves as living in a prison without a wall.
According to official records, the police authorities had arrested 10,278 individuals related to 2019 unrest. Among the arrested, only about 30 percent had gone through the legal process while many of the remaining more than 7,000 cases are still under police bail as of May 2023. This means they have to report to the police regularly with the worry that they could be re-arrested. In addition, the police had arrested 259 cases involving national security and among which 155 cases had entered the legal process as of July 2023, while the remaining individuals were still under police bail.