By Nectar Gan, CNN
Hong Kong (CNN) — One of the most prominent faces of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement revealed Sunday that she is living in Canada and will not return to meet bail conditions as police investigate allegations she endangered national security.
Agnes Chow, a former student activist and politician, broke more than two years of public silence in a social media post on her 27th birthday, announcing she had left Hong Kong for studies in Canada in September – and that she will not return to Hong Kong later this month to report to police as required.
“Probably I won’t return for the rest of my life,” she said in a post on Instagram.
Chow, who was sentenced to 10 months in prison in 2020 for taking part in Hong Kong’s mass anti-government protests the previous year, was bailed by police in a separate case upon her release in 2021 on suspicion of “colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security.”
She had her passport confiscated, was ordered to regularly report to police and had kept a low profile since.
In her Instagram post, Chow said she decided to flee after “considering the situation in Hong Kong, my personal safety, my physical and mental health,” adding that she had faced sustained pressure from authorities.
She said her passport was only returned to her after she agreed to travel in August on a police-organized trip to mainland China to learn about the country’s development.
Chow said she received permission from Hong Kong authorities to pursue her master’s degree in Canada, on the condition that she returned to Hong Kong to report to police during school breaks.
In a statement Monday, Hong Kong police condemned Chow’s plans to skip bail as “irresponsible behaviors that blatantly challenge law and order.”
“Police urge the relevant individual to step back from the brink, refrain from choosing the path of no return and carrying the label of ‘fugitive’ for the rest of her life,” the police statement said.
Escorted mainland China trip
Chow cofounded the pro-democracy Hong Kong political party Demosisto in 2016 with fellow activists Joshua Wong and Nathan Law when they were students. Demosisto was disbanded on June 30, 2020, the same day Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the semi-autonomous city.
Chow was among the first pro-democracy leaders to be detained under the law in Hong Kong. Wong is currently behind bars, while Law is in self-imposed exile in the United Kingdom.
Critics say the law has wiped out opposition to the government and curtailed political freedoms in the once outspoken city. The Hong Kong government has repeatedly denied the legislation is suppressing freedoms and insisted the law has “restored stability” to the city following the 2019 protests.
In her Instagram post, Chow said she was admitted by a university in Toronto earlier this year. But as a condition to get her passport back from police, she had to travel in August with authorities to the mainland Chinese city of Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong.
Under the escort of five national security police officers, Chow said she was taken to an exhibition highlighting China’s achievements since its reform and opening in the late 1970s, and the headquarters of tech giant Tencent to understand “the motherland’s technological development” – where she was required to pose for photos, according to her post.
“I felt as if I was under surveillance the whole time,” she wrote, citing whispers between police officers and staff members behind her back and requests for her to pose for photos.
She also said she was required to write an appreciation letter to “thank the police” for organizing the trip and allowing her to “understand the great development of the motherland.”
“To be honest, I have never denied China’s economic development. But such a powerful country is sending people who fight for democracy to prison, restricting their freedom of entering and leaving the country, and imposing visits to mainland China for patriotic exhibitions as an exchange for getting their passports back – isn’t this a show of vulnerability?” she wrote.
The Hong Kong police statement on Chow confirmed they had returned her passport to allow her to study overseas and prolonged her bail. It did not address Chow’s account of the trip to Shenzhen.
Living in fear
Chow also recounted the mental toll that strict bail conditions had taken on her over more than two years.
Every three months, Chow had to sign a notice extending the confiscation of her passport. She was also ordered to report regularly to police about her income, work, family and personal relationships, Chow wrote on Instagram.
“It was as if someone wanted to remind me every once in a while: you have not regained your freedom, you’re still under surveillance, don’t try to do anything,” she wrote.
Chow said every time she reported to the police, she was fearful of being rearrested.
She had been diagnosed with depression, anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, she said, adding her mental and physical state reached a low point this year, prompting her to apply for graduate school in Canada.
Chow said she gained permission to leave after providing the national security police details of her program and writing a requested “letter of repentance.” In the letter, she stated regretted her past political activities and pledged that she will never participate in politics or meet her fellow activists again.
“Over the past few years, I have experienced first-hand how precious freedom from fear is,” Chow wrote. “Freedom is hard to come by. In my daily life of fear, I cherish all the people who have not forgotten me, who care about me and love me even more. Hope we can reunite in the near future and give each other a good embrace.”
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