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Former Hong Kong Activist Agnes Chow Flees Territory for Canada

Agnes Chow, a high-profile Hong Kong activist who was jailed over the 2019 pro-democracy protests and charged with foreign collusion, has moved to Canada and says she will probably never return to Hong Kong to meet her bail conditions.

In social media posts on Sunday, Chow said she had moved to Canada to study and was suffering mental health impacts as a result of the pressure and restrictions she was under in Hong Kong, awaiting trial on national security charges.

Chow is a well-known activist and a key leader of the youth-driven protest movements of 2012, 2014 and 2019, running the pro-democracy group Demosisto with fellow activist Joshua Wong and pushing back against Beijing’s increasingly authoritarian rule in Hong Kong.

She has not spoken publicly since she was released two-and-a- half years ago after seven months in jail over a protest outside Hong Kong police headquarters in 2019. Chow was also among a group of nine people arrested in 2020, including media tycoon and activist Jimmy Lai, on accusations of “colluding with foreign forces” under the controversial national security law. She was released on bail under conditions including regular reporting to police and the surrender of her passport.

She said on Sunday that she was able to get her passport back by agreeing to take part in a propaganda tour in mainland China accompanied by national security officers and sign a letter of “repentance”.

Writing on Instagram on her 27th birthday, Chow said the pressure she was under from authorities led to her developing depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I did no public activities, had no political involvement, no contact with my former friends, I just waited in silence,” she wrote. “Regular check-ins for national security, partial disenfranchisement, emotional instability and the restrictions on my life as a (former) democratic politician, combined with endless waiting, my mental condition was getting worse.”

Chow said she decided to enrol in a Masters program in Toronto and was accepted. National security authorities demanded she submit information about the course, timetable, accommodation and other records, and asked her to write a “repentance letter” saying she regretted her past political involvement and would never contact anyone from that sector again.

But in July, authorities made another request, Chow said. She must go on a tour in Shenzhen, in mainland China, accompanied by national security police. Upon her return she would get her passport back, and could go to Canada, with required returns to Hong Kong during college holidays.

She agreed, feeling she had “no right to refuse” but fearing what would happen once she crossed the border. In mid-August she spent a day with five police officers, where she was taken to political exhibitions about China’s development achievements and to the headquarters of tech company Tencent, according to her post. She was asked to pose for photos, which she speculated would be held as proof of her “patriotism” to China.

She said she wasn’t questioned by Chinese state security officers, and didn’t meet any Communist party officials, but “felt that I was under surveillance all the time”.

On her return to Hong Kong she was asked to write a letter of thanks to police for arranging the trip “so that I can understand the great development of my motherland”.

Chow said she was eventually able to leave for Canada in September, receiving her passport the day before departure.

It was only in recent weeks that she had decided not to return to Hong Kong, she said, citing fears that if she went back there would be more conditions placed on her, or she would be prevented from leaving again.

“After careful consideration, including considering the situation in Hong Kong, my own safety, my physical and mental health, I decided not to go back, and will probably never go back for the rest of my life.”

“I didn’t have this intention in the beginning,” she wrote.

“I have felt for years how precious freedom from fear is. There are still a lot of unknowns in the future, but what can be known is that I finally don’t have to worry about being arrested anymore and can say what I want to do. “

In response to Chow’s post, the Hong Kong national security department released a statement on Monday morning, although it did not name her.

“The police strongly condemn these irresponsible behaviours that blatantly challenge law and order,” it said. “The police appeal to the person involved to step back from the cliff and not choose to take a path of no return and bear the name of ‘fugitive’ for the rest of her life.”

The department did not dispute her claims about the letters of repentance and thanks, or the propaganda tour, and confirmed that she had been granted travel documents to study abroad after having been “cooperative” with her police reporting requirements.

Source: The Guardian