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Hong Kong activist Agnes Chow still fears Beijing’s reach despite living in Canada

Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow speaks to members of the media at the Eastern Magistrates' Courts after being arrested and released on bail on Aug. 30, 2019, in Hong Kong. Chow has moved to Toronto and says she's unlikely to return to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow speaks to members of the media at the Eastern Magistrates' Courts after being arrested and released on bail on Aug. 30, 2019, in Hong Kong. Chow has moved to Toronto and says she's unlikely to return to Hong Kong.

Photo: (Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

RCI

Chow would be pursued for life unless she turns herself in, Hong Kong's leader said this week

Pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow, who left Hong Kong for Canada and won't return to meet her bail conditions, said Thursday she felt still under the watch of the Chinese territory's police even after moving to Toronto.

Chow, 27, is one of Hong Kong's most prominent young activists and was arrested in 2020 under a Beijing-imposed national security law that was enacted following 2019 anti-government protests. While she was not charged and was released on bail, police confiscated her passport before returning it to her this year under certain conditions, including a visit to mainland China with authorities.

Chow said in an interview with The Associated Press that Hong Kong's national security police called her twice to ask her about her status after she left the city to pursue further studies in September.

They keep trying to make me feel like I'm under their eyes, she said.

While Chow is now thousands of miles away from her hometown, her worries about her safety remain.

She pointed to China's alleged secret overseas police stations, which have been reported across North America, Europe, and in other countries. China denies that they are police stations, saying that they exist mainly to provide citizen services such as renewing driver's licenses.

Chow, who is attending school in Toronto, also addressed those concerns earlier this week in an interview with CBC's Metro Morning.

When I go out to the street I try to keep a low profile and cover up my face, but I hope that I can live safely and also freely in Canada, because I believe Canada is a democratic country [where] freedom and human rights will be protected here, she said.

In this June 18, 2019, photo, pro-democracy activists Agnes Chow, right, and Joshua Wong meet media outside government office in Hong Kong. Demosisto, a pro-democracy group in Hong Kong posted on its social media accounts that well-known activist Joshua Wong had been pushed into a private car around 7:30 a.m. Friday, Aug. 30, 2019 and was taken to police headquarters. It later said another member, Agnes Chow, had been arrested as well. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

In this June 18, 2019, photo, pro-democracy activists Agnes Chow, right, and Joshua Wong meet media outside government office in Hong Kong. Demosisto, a pro-democracy group in Hong Kong posted on its social media accounts that well-known activist Joshua Wong had been pushed into a private car around 7:30 a.m. Friday, Aug. 30, 2019 and was taken to police headquarters. It later said another member, Agnes Chow, had been arrested as well. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Photo: The Associated Press / Kin Cheung

Pursued despite lack of charge

The intimidation of Hong Kong dissidents like Chow reflected the severe erosion of the freedoms promised to the former British colony when it returned to China in 1997. But both the Beijing and Hong Kong governments have hailed the security law for bringing back stability to the city.

On Tuesday, Hong Kong leader John Lee hit out at Chow's decision to not return to Hong Kong to fulfil her bail conditions. He called Chow a liar and said the police's attempt to offer her lenient treatment eventually led to them being deceived. Chow would be pursued for life unless she turns herself in, he added.

But Chow rejected the government's claims that police had offered her leniency, insisting she only felt infringement of her personal safety and freedom. She said the restrictions imposed by the authorities on her daily life had badly affected her mental health.

She said in an Instagram post on Sunday she only had her passport returned to her so she could pursue a master's degree after she agreed to go to mainland China with national security authorities.

During that trip in August, she said, she visited an exhibition on China's achievements and the headquarters of tech giant Tencent. She was asked to pose for photos. Later, police asked her to write a thank you letter to them before returning her passport to her, she added.

Chow pondered for a really long time whether to publicize her experience. She said her trip showed the Hong Kong police were adopting more of the style of mainland Chinese authorities to control and intimidate political dissidents.

If I did not make my story public, these photos, these letters might one day become the evidence of my patriotism. That is something I do not want to see, she said.

Lee on Tuesday highlighted that Chow was arrested for alleged collusion with foreign forces and that those who have committed that offence have become foreign agents.

However, Chow said that framing was ridiculous, pointing out she has not been charged three years after her arrest. She said her decision to move to Canada and not to return to Hong Kong was entirely her own decision.

So we could clearly see that the national security law has become a political tool to the authority to make up accusations and to intimidate political dissidents, she said.

She said she was stopped from contacting her friends in Demosisto, a now-defunct political party she co-founded with other prominent activists Nathan Law and Joshua Wong.

Demosisto was disbanded on June 30, 2020, the same day the security law was enacted. Wong is in custody on a subversion charge that could result in life imprisonment if he is convicted. Law fled to Britain and Hong Kong police have offered a reward of 1 million Hong Kong dollars ($174,100 Cdn) for information leading to his arrest.

The Associated Press with files from CBC News

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