Agnes Chow: 'Why I chose not to return to Hong Kong'
From Canada the words of the Catholic activist - already imprisoned for the 2019 protests - recounting her suffering from continued police pressure even after her release from prison in 2021. She only regained her passport to attend a master's programme in Toronto after a 'patriotic education' trip to Shenzhen and 'letters of repentance'. The troubled choice of exile. "For such a powerful country to send people who fight for democracy to prison is not proof of vulnerability?".
Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - On her twenty-seventh birthday Agnes Chow, Catholic, one of the best-known faces of the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and for this reason imprisoned for seven months between 2020 and 2021, announced that she was in Toronto in Canada and that he does not want to return to his country.
She did so with two posts published yesterday on her Instagram profile after the long silence following her release on bail, revealing that she had been forced to make a "patriotic" trip to Shenzhen in order to regain her passport.
Agnes Chow explained that she came to this conclusion after "considering the situation in Hong Kong, my personal safety, my physical and mental health." “I don't want to be forced to do anything anymore, and I don't want to be forced to go to mainland China anymore,” she said.
Agnes Chow grew up in the Catholic community of Taipo, in the "new territories": she also performed liturgical service in one of the sub-centres in the parish of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Already a protagonist in the "umbrella movement" - the student courts of 2012 and 2014 - she was arrested in the harsh repression of the large pro-democracy protests of 2019 which led Beijing to impose the draconian national security law.
Her two posts published by Toronto are a story of the suffering of these years, but also an eloquent testimony to the pressure that she continued to suffer from the Hong Kong police. We publish a translation of the prinicpal excerpts:
“Until the last night before my release despite the relatively short sentence I feared that I would not get out of prison. I always thought about the search of my house by the National Security Agency, the sentence, the handcuffs, when they stripped me for inspection: all evidence of my loss of freedom. Fortunately, in June 2021, I was able to leave prison. But the fear and anxiety in my heart have not disappeared at all.”
Agnes Chow says she had her passport confiscated, with the obligation to go to the police station every three months to sign a "Notice of detention of travel documents". “For several years I did not carry out any public activity, did not engage in politics, did not contact my old friends again and waited in silence. However, I still did not have the right to leave the country. Sometimes, when I showed up for work, Security would continue to 'worry' about my situation - my income, my job, my family, my relationships - as if occasionally reminding me that I hadn't regained my freedom. , that I was still under surveillance and that I shouldn't try to do anything. I continued to live with fear and trepidation, my psychological condition deteriorated, and the year 2023 was the worst for me emotionally and physically.”
Hence the decision to try to apply for a master's degree at the University of Toronto. “During the application process, Homeland Security asked me to write a 'repentance letter,' stating that I rejected my past political involvement and would no longer contact those involved. If I hadn't been willing to compromise, I would have missed out on studying. And at that moment I was just hoping to be able to leave Hong Kong safely to continue my studies.”
“After overcoming many obstacles, Homeland Security told me in early July this year that if I wanted to study in Canada, there was one more condition: 'return to mainland China with us' (i.e. be 'accompanied ' and 'protected' by National Security officers of the Hong Kong Police). I knew I had no right to refuse."
“One day in August I went to mainland China accompanied by five agents. We left early in the morning and I crossed the border with the home visit permit I had just applied for. I had mixed feelings because I didn't know if National Security would keep their promise to return my passport if I managed to return to Hong Kong. That day, in addition to eating, drinking and having fun, I was arranged to visit the 'Reform and Opening-up Exhibition' to learn about the development of China and the Communist Party, as well as the 'brilliant achievements' of successive leaders . Later, I was taken to Tencent headquarters to learn about the 'technological development of our motherland'. In all fairness: I have never denied China's economic development, but for such a powerful country to send people fighting for democracy to prison, limit their freedom of entry and exit, and require entry into China to visit exhibitions patriotism in exchange for passports, isn't that an example of vulnerability?".
“When I visited the exhibition and Tencent headquarters, I was also asked to take a photo with the logo, and the driver from Shenzhen who accompanied me kept taking photos of me. If I had remained silent, those photos could have become proof of my 'patriotism': that's how tangible this fear is. And when I returned to Hong Kong, the National Security again asked me to write a letter thanking the police for organizing all this, 'so that I can learn about the great development of our motherland'. I think I wrote several letters of this nature in those few months. Finally, in mid-September I left Hong Kong to study in Toronto, Canada, receiving my passport the day before departure. Without almost realizing it, I've been here for almost three months and my first semester is almost over."
“I was originally scheduled to return to Hong Kong at the end of December to report to the police in relation to the national security law. But after careful consideration, including the situation in Hong Kong, my safety, and my physical and mental health, I have decided not to return to Hong Kong, and probably will not return for the rest of my life. The main reason is that if I come back to report, even if national security doesn't arrest me or take my passport away, it's very likely that, as they have done in the past, they will impose some conditions or interrogate me, and I will have to fulfill them before be able to return to Canada. Even if they don't do it at the end of December, when I should return to Hong Kong next year, with the situation becoming even more critical, they can still ban me from leaving the territory for investigation reasons. I don't want to be forced to do what I don't want to do, and I don't want to be forced to go to mainland China anymore. If this continues, even if I am safe, my body and mind will collapse.”
“At first I didn't have this intention. When I was still in Hong Kong, I didn't dare to think about what would happen next, and it was already not easy for me to go abroad to study. Only after I settled in Canada did I start thinking about December, and before I even had an answer, I even bought a ticket back to Hong Kong. Therefore, if someone wants to say that I thought about betraying national security, that is absolutely wrong.”
“Over the past few years I have learned firsthand how precious freedom from fear is. There are still many unknowns in the future, but what I know is that I will no longer have to worry about whether or not I will be arrested and I will finally be able to say and do what I want. As I study and heal in Canada, I also hope to rediscover the interests that I put aside due to my emotional suffering and various pressures in the past, and rebuild my rhythm. Freedom is not easy to obtain, and amidst the fear of everyday life, I treasure all the people who have not forgotten me, who care about me, and who love me even more. May we reunite in the near future and hug each other."
* pro-democracy activist in Hong Kong, exiled in Canada