In August this yr Agnes Chow crossed into mainland China full of worry. The younger activist was within the firm of 5 nationwide safety police, taking her from her dwelling in Hong Kong, on what she says was a “propaganda tour” organised by authorities in return for her being allowed to check abroad.
Police had instructed her the tour was obligatory if she needed them to return her passport, which they’d confiscated years earlier as a part of her bail circumstances. Chow is a key determine in Hong Kong’s most vital pro-democracy motion within the final decade, pushing again towards Beijing’s more and more authoritarian rule in Hong Kong.
Chow says she was knowledgeable of the alarming demand to cross into mainland China – made exterior any recognized regulation or regulation – in July, and was banned from telling her lawyer. “For that month I used to be actually afraid that I wouldn’t have the ability to get again to Hong Kong,” she says.
“If something occurred in mainland China nobody would know, nobody would come to rescue me. It was actually horrible. And it was a complete disrespect to the rule of regulation.”
Chow is chatting with the Guardian from Toronto, simply days after revealing in an Instagram put up that she had moved there to check, however had determined not to return to Hong Kong, maybe ever.
In 2020 she was jailed for seven months on convictions associated to the 2019 protests that swept Hong Kong, after which arrested once more in 2020 on accusations of “colluding with international forces” below the controversial nationwide safety regulation, launched to crack down on the motion. Launched on bail in 2021, she needed to flip in her passport and report often to police.
However the strain of life in Hong Kong – the fixed vigilance, silence, and an absence of contact with anybody from her former political circles – had affected her psychological well being and he or she started to think about leaving.
Chow was accepted right into a Canadian college course and requested the nationwide safety police if she may go. They demanded details about the course, timetable, lodging and different information, and requested her to put in writing a “repentance letter” saying she regretted her previous political involvement, and decide to returning throughout semester breaks. Then they mentioned she was happening a day journey to mainland China.
“I’m unsure who deliberate this journey, [but] I do know the reason being they wish to sort of reeducate me,” she says.
Chow says officers took her to a patriotic exhibition on China’s financial improvement and the achievements of the Chinese language Communist celebration, and to the headquarters of tech big Tencent. She says the officers spoke to her usually all through the day, however she wasn’t instructed something of the itinerary. Driving again over the border into Hong Kong, she breathed a sigh of reduction.
“However once they drove me again to Hong Kong I used to be additionally afraid they’d nonetheless probably not return my passport,” she says.
Chinese language authorities have a protracted historical past of taking dissidents on enforced holidays round delicate instances, just like the Tiananmen bloodbath anniversary, however it’s uncommon for Hong Kong.
In one of many solely different recognized alleged cases, Grandma Wong, a well known determine at Hong Kong rallies, disappeared in 2019 for 14 months, earlier than reappearing in Hong Kong claiming she’d been detained and interrogated on the mainland and in addition taken on a “patriotic journey”.
“The Hong Kong police have gotten nearer and nearer to the mainland model on easy methods to take care of political dissidents,” says Chow.
Till her two-part put up final Sunday Chow had not spoken publicly since her launch from jail.
She says her determination to remain in Canada – made solely in latest weeks – was influenced by the worsening political state of affairs in Hong Kong. Underneath a society-wide crackdown on dissent pushed by Beijing, authorities have overhauled the electoral system to make sure solely authorised “patriots” can run, issued worldwide arrest warrants for opposition figures, and aired mainland China-style televised confessions.
Chow had fulfilled all the necessities from police to be allowed to depart Hong Kong, however felt there was no assure the authorities wouldn’t change their minds on one of many journeys again to the town.
“I used to be afraid that I could not have the ability to come again to Canada, or that even when they let me … they’d require me to fulfil some extra sorts of circumstances. For instance go to mainland China once more, or present details about myself or individuals round me,” she says.
“What I want is simply to reside freely and never be pressured to do one thing I don’t wish to do, together with going to mainland China.”
There’s a sense that Chow is now saying all the things she needed to earlier than however couldn’t. However it’s not with out danger, and there may be trepidation in her voice.
“I’m involved about my private security right here in Toronto,” she says. “Canada is a democratic nation which respects human rights and freedom, however I learn some information reviews about Chinese language abroad police, secret police in several nations, together with Canada.”
After Chow introduced on social media that she would keep in Toronto, the authorities responded with anger. Hong Kong’s chief government accused her of “full deception”, calling her a liar and a hypocrite. His pledge that she can be “pursued for all times”, together with the urging from Hong Kong police that she “not select to take a path of no return and bear the identify of ‘fugitive’ for the remainder of her life” had been famous for his or her similarity to rhetoric usually heard from the Chinese language Communist celebration.
“I really feel their responses are ridiculous. John Lee mentioned they tried to be lenient to me. Why would the authorities communicate of the phrase lenient? Within the final three years I solely felt the infringement of my private freedoms and rights, they had been under no circumstances lenient. They imposed unfair restrictions on my life.”
Chow rejects the accusations she was or is a international agent, saying there is no such thing as a proof. As an alternative she accuses the authorities of utilizing the nationwide safety regulation – launched in 2020 in response to the pro-democracy protests of the earlier yr – as a weapon towards dissidents.
Chow nonetheless suffers from the psychological toll of life in Hong Kong as an activist.
“In comparison with my life in Hong Kong I do know I’m sort of safer than earlier than, however to be sincere after I arrived in Toronto I nonetheless generally have panic assaults and melancholy assaults,” she says.
“After I arrived in Toronto the [Hong Kong] nationwide safety police referred to as me twice, one time in September and one other time in October. They requested how my life was going right here, issues like that, and I felt like they tried to make me really feel like they had been nonetheless monitoring me.”
The Guardian contacted Hong Kong police for remark, however was as an alternative referred to earlier statements. Police and authorities officers haven’t disputed claims Chow has made about being despatched on a “propaganda tour” and have refused to reply what guidelines or laws allowed it to happen.