Agnes Chow, the Hong Kong Catholic pro-democracy activist released from jail in 2021, has left the country and will not abide by her bail conditions, she announced Sunday.
On December 3, her 27th birthday, Chow posted on Instagram that she has decided to remain in Canada, where she has been pursuing university studies since September, and would not return to Hong Kong to fulfill the conditions of her release from prison.
Chow, who was jailed in 2020, said in her statement that she made her decision “considering the situation in Hong Kong, my personal safety, my physical and mental health.”
“Perhaps I will never go back again in my lifetime,” she said.
In 2021, Chow was released from prison in Hong Kong after serving more than 6 months for attending an “unlawful” assembly in 2019.
She was convicted of attending public protests against a law that would have allowed for political prisoners to be extradited to mainland China to face trial in some circumstances. She was charged and sentenced along with Joshua Wong, a Christian and co-founder of the Demosisto pro-democracy organization with Chow.
Chow was separately facing charges of “colluding with foreign forces” and other offenses under Hong Kong’s controversial National Security Law.
Before her imprisonment, Chow was banned from running in Hong Kong elections following election law reforms. She has been accused of “sedition” under the terms of the National Security Law, imposed on Hong Kong by the mainland government on July 1, 2020.
The law effectively criminalizes many forms of political speech or criticism of the government; Chow, Wong, and Nathan Law, another pro-democracy activist currently seeking political refuge in the U.K., were forced to dissolve Demosisto within days of it being imposed.
Following her release from prison, Chow stepped back from public speaking, noting at the time that she needed to recover physically from her time in prison, noting that “[my] body has become too thin during this period.”
Earlier this year, Chow was offered the return of her passport and the possibility of international travel if she first undertook a well-photographed trip to mainland China where several police officers took her on a tour of an exhibition of Chinese national achievements and a visit to the headquarters of the technology company Tencent.
Chow wrote statement Sunday that “I don’t want to be forced to do anything any more, and I don’t want to be forced to go to mainland China any more.”
The Hong Kong national security authorities immediately responded to Chow’s statement calling for her “to pull back before it’s too late” and that she was taking a “road with no return and bearing the identity of ‘fugitive’ for the rest of her life.”
Hong Kong authorities have previously placed bounties on exiled pro-democracy campaigners, including Nathan Law, another former Demosisto leader who was granted political asylum in the UK in 2021. There is currently a $125,000 reward for his return to Chinese authorities.
Chow is one of several prominent Catholics, including billionaire businessman and publisher Jimmy Lai, to have been arrested and imprisoned for attending pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong.
“I’m a Catholic. I do think that my participation in social movements is affected by my religion. When I was young, my dad brought me to the church. We need to learn, we have to care, about the people who are being oppressed and people who are weak and need help. Not only Christianity and Catholics, many of the religions in the world, the basic [lesson] is that we need to learn how to care about people who need help and people who are weak. So that’s why I care.”
Since the imposition of the 2020 National Security Law, Catholic and other educational institutions have come under sustained pressure from the government to ensure they instill the appropriate level of “patriotism” in students.
Catholic schools in the diocese have also been told to ensure that teachers “foster the correct values on national identity” and ensure respect for Chinese national symbols in Catholic schools, including the Chinese flag and national anthem.
In 2021, the University of Hong Kong disowned its own student union, accusing it of “political propaganda” against the state, and accused student leaders of "inflammatory and potentially unlawful public statements and unfounded allegations against the university" and of “smearing” the Hong Kong government’s controversial election law overhaul.
Since his installation as bishop of the Diocese of Hong Kong in December 2021, Cardinal Stephen Chow has been eager to steer a course of conciliation in his diocese, where political divisions around Hong Kong’s legal status and the erosion of civil liberties are present in the local Catholic community.
At the time of his installation, Chow said that he had previously attended banned public gatherings in Hong Kong, including a prayer vigil to mark the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, which he has called a formative event in his life.
Since taking over the diocese, Chow has often sought to balance the conflicting political currents within the local Catholic community, and tensions with the government. In an interview last year, Chow noted that “culture can be subversive,” and he touted the importance of the Church’s education mission and work in schools.
Following his visit to the mainland earlier this year, Chow wrote about the Christian duty to be good citizens, while acknowledging tensions between the Church and the government, both in Hong Kong and on the mainland.
While reminding local Catholics of their duty to be good citizens, as taught by the Church, Bishop Chow also frankly acknowledged tensions and problems with state authorities and said that dialogue “is not about kowtowing.”