Agnes Chow: From teenage activist to imprisoned democracy leader in Hong Kong, World News
Agnes Chow comes from a generation of Hong Kong democracy activists who cut their teeth in politics as a teenager and are now regularly silenced by China.
The 24-year-old, one of the democracy movement’s most recognizable faces, spent just under seven months behind bars for her role in an “illegal assembly” outside the city’s police headquarters during the huge and often violent demonstrations for democracy in 2019.
She was imprisoned alongside two other well-known young activists, Joshua Wong and Ivan Lam. She entered the hectic world of Hong Kong politics early on.
Chow described growing up in an apolitical Catholic home.
But at the age of 15, she joined the youth-led movement to protest against plans to implement “moral and national education” in public schools.
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Students feared the plan would herald the kind of heavily censored education seen on mainland China.
They staged huge sit-ins and the plan was ultimately scrapped in a rare example of a protest forcing the downfall of the Hong Kong government.
It was during these protests that she met another teenage activist, Wong.
Two years later, Wong, Chow and other students were key figures in the “Umbrella Movement” – 79 days of sit-ins and rallies sparked by Beijing’s refusal to keep its promise to one day grant the suffrage universal to Hong Kong people.
The protests were peaceful, but unsuccessful.
Yet a whole new generation of opposition politicians have formed at these rallies.
They would become a thorn in Beijing’s side as it tried to tighten its grip on the semi-autonomous financial center, which was increasingly irritated under the Chinese Communist Party regime.
Chow helped found the now dissolved pro-democracy Demosisto party alongside Wong, Nathan Law and other young political leaders.
She gave up a British passport to run for the partially elected Hong Kong legislature, but was barred from running because her party advocated “self-determination.”
Since then, it has become common for authorities to disqualify politicians for the views they hold.
A new law passed last month will test anyone running for public office for political loyalty, a campaign Beijing has called “Patriots rule Hong Kong.”
One of Chow’s most successful roles has been to bring international attention to the city’s democratic movement, aided by his fluency in English, Cantonese and Japanese. She has built a huge social network in Japan in particular.
His Twitter account, which posts primarily in Japanese, has more than half a million subscribers. Chow may not be free for a long time.
She was one of the first opposition politicians to be arrested under Beijing’s new security law – for allegedly “collaborating with foreign forces” in campaigning for sanctions. She has not yet been charged.
But if prosecutors take this step, she will almost certainly be denied bail and be returned to custody.
More than 100 people, including some of the city’s most prominent Democratic activists, have been arrested under the new law.
Most of those charged are denied bail, and those convicted face life in prison.