A prominent Hong Kong activist who was jailed for her role in pro-democracy protests that swept the territory has revealed that she is now living in Canada and will not be returning home to meet her bail conditions.
Agnes Chow told The Globe and Mail in a Canadian exclusive on Sunday that she has been pursuing a master’s degree in Toronto and will not go back to Hong Kong, citing its political situation, safety concerns, and her physical and mental health.
Ms. Chow said she had purchased a return ticket but changed her mind last month after careful consideration.
“For many people who live in democratic countries, freedom is something they have had since they were born, something they may take for granted. But the experience of these few years has made me feel how important it is,” she said in an interview on Sunday, which marked her 27th birthday.
In a statement late Monday, the Hong Kong government condemned Ms. Chow’s “shameful” decision to jump bail “in total disregard of law and order.”
It added the Hong Kong authorities would “spare no effort in bringing her to justice.” Previously the Chinese territory has issued warrants for several overseas activists, including some based in Canada. Family members of exile critics have also been questioned by national security police in Hong Kong.
Ms. Chow and several other activists became the faces of a youth-led movement for democracy in Hong Kong that at its peak saw millions of people take to the streets in protest. Along with Joshua Wong and Nathan Law, she co-founded the pro-democracy group Demosisto in 2016. It sought self-determination and a referendum on Hong Kong’s future after 2047, the year the “one country, two systems” policy is set to expire.
Demosisto disbanded in June, 2020, hours after the passing of Beijing’s sweeping national-security law, which criminalized subversion, secession and collusion with foreign powers. That November, Beijing-installed chief executive Carrie Lam booted four pro-democracy members from the Legislative Council, prompting the remaining opposition members to resign en masse in solidarity.
More than 260 people have been arrested under the security law, including many of Hong Kong’s most vocal pro-democracy activists.
Ms. Chow was imprisoned from November, 2020, to June, 2021, on charges related to unlawful assembly for her role in a protest near Hong Kong’s police headquarters. Shortly before her imprisonment, she was arrested for a separate incident alongside pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai, accused of “colluding with foreign forces.”
On the latter, Ms. Chow was released on bail on the condition she surrender her passport and report to police every three months. When she applied to study in Canada, authorities said she could get her passport back on the condition that she agreed to go on a trip to Shenzhen to learn about China’s accomplishments.
Ms. Chow said she hesitantly agreed and was accompanied by five members of Hong Kong’s national-security personnel, visiting one exhibit on the achievements of China and the Communist Party’s leaders throughout history, and another on technological advancements in the country.
“For me, if China is such a strong country, but they are trying to deprive the rights and freedoms of its citizens, they confiscate our passports, they take away our freedom of movement, they use our passports as a condition of exchange, to send people to mainland China – I don’t think that’s the behaviour that a strong country should do.”
Ms. Chow said she felt she was under constant surveillance in Shenzhen and worried that she wouldn’t receive her passport despite complying.
Back in Hong Kong, Ms. Chow said she was required to write several letters expressing her gratitude for the arrangement and repenting for having gotten involved in the pro-democracy movement. She says she felt intimidation throughout, with security police regularly asking about her life, her friends and her family, and hitting roadblocks when she tried to apply for housing and employment.
She was returned her passport and arrived in Toronto in mid-September, where she says she scrambled to secure an apartment and catch up on the first semester of her studies.
The Hong Kong government condemned what it said was Ms. Chow’s “flagrant disregard for police bail terms,” and urged her to return to the territory to face prosecution.
Ms. Chow said she has felt a sense of freedom since arriving in Canada but still grapples with the anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and panic attacks that she was diagnosed with by a psychiatrist in Hong Kong. It was these factors that led to her decision last month to stay, she said.
She said she has no regrets about her political actions.
Although “many people, including me, are not even going back to our hometown because of the political suppression in Hong Kong, I’ll say I still believe that what I have been doing is right.”
With a report from James Griffiths in Hong Kong