HONG KONG — Agnes Chow, a prominent pro-democracy activist in Hong Kong who was arrested as part of a sweeping crackdown, said over the weekend that she had fled to Canada and planned to skip bail, in a bold challenge to authorities.
Chow had been arrested in 2020, along with several other dissidents, including newspaper mogul Jimmy Lai, after Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong to curb dissent. Authorities were investigating Chow on suspicion of collusion with external elements, a vaguely defined political crime that carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. She was later released on bail.
Chow wrote in an Instagram post Sunday that she had traveled to Canada in September to study at a university. She said she had decided not to return to Hong Kong in December to report to police, as authorities had requested. “Perhaps I will never go back again in my lifetime,” she wrote.
Hong Kong’s national security police condemned her expressed intention to “jump bail” and urged her to “immediately turn back.” In a statement Monday, the Hong Kong government said that it would “spare no effort” in bringing Chow to justice and warned that she could not “evade legal liabilities by absconding.”
In Beijing, a foreign ministry spokesman who was asked about Ms. Chow’s statement said that no one was above the law and that illegal acts would be punished.
Chow, 27, rose to prominence as a teenage activist in 2012 protesting government plans to introduce “patriotic education” in Hong Kong’s schools, alongside Joshua Wong. She later became one of the more prominent young leaders of the pro-democracy movement in 2014.
In 2020, she was imprisoned for her role in a protest outside the police headquarters during a wave of anti-government demonstrations the previous summer; she was released early after serving nearly seven months.
She was also separately arrested in 2020 on suspicion of a national security offense, and, as part of her bail conditions, her travel documents were confiscated, and she had to routinely check in with police, according to the police statement Monday.
Chow said in her post on Instagram that in order to get her passport back, she had to visit neighboring Shenzhen in mainland China, led by five security officers.
She said that officers asked her to pose for photographs at key spots that included the headquarters of the technology company Tencent and an exhibition of the Communist Party’s accomplishments. She added that she was also asked to write a letter of gratitude to the police for organizing a tour that allowed her to “understand the great developments of the motherland.”
In explaining her decision not to return to Hong Kong after settling in Canada, Chow said she did not want to run the risk of being arrested again or of not being able to leave. “There are still many unknowns in the future, but what I do know is that I finally no longer have to worry about whether I will be arrested, and I can say and do what I want,” she wrote.
Given her prominence, Chow’s announcement may be a source of embarrassment to the Hong Kong authorities, which have intensified their pressure on dissidents living in exile in recent months.
In July, Hong Kong’s top leader said eight dissidents living overseas would be stigmatized like “rats in the streets” and “pursued for life,” with hefty financial rewards being offered in exchange for information leading to their prosecution.
Steve Tsang, the director of the SOAS China Institute in London, said that in letting Chow travel to Canada, the authorities were possibly hoping to depict her as an example of a reformed former dissident who avoided imprisonment by complying with Beijing.
Her willingness to be taken on a trip to the mainland was perhaps taken by the police as a sign that she was “‘repentant’ enough to be re-educated,” he said.
If she had returned to Hong Kong from Canada and “continued to behave as police expected, then it could send a message to young dissidents: Do you want to spend the rest of your life in prison, or do you want to be like Agnes?” he said.
“The logic behind what they are doing is understandable,” he said. “They just underestimate the spirit of the young people in Hong Kong.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.