BANGKOK (AP) — Pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow, who left Hong Kong for Canada and doesn’t plan to return to fulfill her bail conditions, said Thursday she still feels under the watch of the Chinese territory’s police after moving to Toronto.
Chow 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 has not been 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.
The intimidation of Hong Kong dissidents like Chow reflects 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, saying it brought 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 meet her bail conditions. He called Chow a “liar” and said attempts by police to offer her lenient treatment eventually led to them being deceived. Chow will be pursued for life unless she turns herself in, he said.
Chow rejected the government’s claim that police had offered her leniency, insisting her personal safety and freedom had been infringed. 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 that her passport was only 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 visited to an exhibition on China’s achievements and the headquarters of tech giant Tencent, she said. 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 said.
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.
In response to questions about Chow’s comments, the government and the police asked the AP to refer to their earlier statements and transcripts of officials’ previous remarks, including Lee’s.
They have condemned her decision to leave. Lee on Tuesday said Chow was arrested for alleged collusion with foreign forces and that those who have committed that offense have become foreign agents.
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 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 ($127,600) for information leading to his arrest.
Chief Secretary Eric Chan said Thursday that the security law helped shield Hong Kong from destruction by foreign countries and people who wanted to damage the city.
“I despise those who broke the law, evaded their responsibilities and still bad-mouthed Hong Kong outside (of the city),” he said.
While Chow is now thousands of kilometers (miles) away from her hometown, her worries about her safety remain.
She pointed to alleged Chinese “secret overseas police stations” which have been reported across North America, Europe, and in other countries. China denies they are police stations, saying they exist mainly to provide citizen services such as renewing driver’s licenses.
“But at least I could do what I want to do. I could say what I want to say,” she said. “I could finally start to heal my mental health issues.”
Associated Press writer Kanis Leung in Hong Kong contributed to this report.
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