Agnes Chow is 23 years old, but in her oft-worn white shirt paired with a blue skirt, she still looks like a high school senior. Whether in person or on social media, many are drawn to her sweet and innocent smile. This soft-spoken and petite young woman has been a fearless warrior fighting for Hong Kong’s democracy since she was a teenager.
A Catholic raised in a Catholic family, Chow cites her religious faith as a driving force behind her participation in social movements. When Chow was just 15, she joined a sit-in demonstration outside of the Hong Kong government’s office, protesting Beijing’s plan to impose the Chinese Communist Party’s “moral and patriotic” education on the Hong Kong youth.
In 2014, Beijing announced an election framework in tension with the international interpretation of “universal suffrage” by insisting that any would-be candidates for the chief executive office in Hong Kong must be vetted by a committee they control. In response, Chow — at the time, only 17 — joined a then 18-year old Joshua Wong in leading Hong Kong’s protest by boycotting classes.
They not only demanded universal suffrage but also the resignation of Beijing-appointed Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. Their movement initially debuted with the slogan, “Occupy Central with Love and Peace.” Soon after, it became known as the “Umbrella Movement,” deriving its name from the umbrellas protestors used to shield themselves from tear gas fired by police.
Standing Up For Hong Kong’s Freedom
Two years later, Chow became one of the founding members of Demosisto, a pro-democracy youth activist group in Hong Kong. One Demosisto candidate, 23-year-old Nathan Law, won a seat in the 2016 Legislative Council election and became the youngest candidate ever to be elected.
Chow and a group of young ladies joyfully danced to celebrate their success at Demosisto’s first-anniversary party. Those were the times Hong Kong youth still felt hopeful that, through the existing political process, they could build a more democratic city and resist Beijing’s gradual erosion of Hong Kong’s political freedom.
Before long, unfortunately, their hopes and dreams were quickly dashed. In 2017, on the eve of the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover, the Chinese Foreign Ministry declared: “Now that Hong Kong has returned to the motherland for 20 years, the Sino-British Joint Declaration, as a historical document, no longer has any realistic meaning.” As such, China abandoned all pretense for keeping the promises they made to Britain and Hongkongers when the city was handed over.
Shortly after Beijing’s declaration, a Hong Kong court disqualified four pro-democracy lawmakers, including Law, for modifying their oaths of allegiance to China during their swearing-in ceremony back in 2016. Then, as punitive retribution for their activities in the 2014 Umbrella movement, Law, Joshua Wong, and Alex Chow were convicted and sent to jail for more than half a year.
Sacrifice For a Noble Cause
In preparation for her run for public office in 2018, Agnes Chow deferred her study at the Hong Kong Baptist University and renounced her British citizenship (a requirement from Hong Kong’s Basic Law to be a candidate). A Hong Kong court, however, barred her from running when authorities deemed Chow’s support for the city’s right to self-determination contradictory to the “one country, two systems” framework.
Last year, Chow and many other Hong Kong youths were at the forefront of protests against the extradition bill. They were concerned that if the new extradition bill became law, Hong Kong authorities, under Beijing’s pressure, would give pro-democracy and human rights activists to Beijing based on trumped-up charges. Critics of Beijing, they feared, would risk their lives.
After several months of protest and unrest in the city, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam finally withdrew the bill. But Lam and her Communist Party boss in Beijing are unwaveringly bent on making the leaders of the protests pay.
On August 30, 2019, Chow and several high-profile leaders, including Wong, were arrested for participating in an unlawful assembly on June 21, 2019. She was released on the same day, but police confiscated her smartphone.
The End of Demosisto
After Beijing announced it was drafting a National Security Law (NSL) to control Hong Kong, Chow has been voicing her concerns over its suppression of freedom of expression and Hong Kong autonomy. She filled her days with interviews with foreign media. In an interview with a Japanese TV station, Chow, speaking fluent Japanese, argued that in light of the pending NSL, Tokyo should think twice before inviting the Chinese Communist Party’s General Secretary Xi Jinping for a state visit. Her plea for foreign intervention angered Beijing further.
The night before the NSL went into effect, Chow and Wong announced they would disband their beloved Demosisto, recognizing the sad truth that activists associated with their organization would find themselves in danger under the NSL.
The Hong Kong authorities, however, continued to persecute Chow for her leading role in the last number’s anti-extradition protests. On July 6 of this year, Chow pleaded guilty for the “incitement and taking part in an unauthorized assembly” in 2019. She was convicted on August 5 and prepared to go to prison. Then this Monday, August 10, Chow was arrested “on suspicion of collusion with foreign or external forces to endanger national security.”
Twelve pro-democracy activists, including Apple Daily’s publisher Jimmy Lai, were arrested on the same day as Chow, all on the “suspicion of collusion with foreign forces under the national security law.” But it was the image of Chow, still in her familiar schoolgirl uniform, being handcuffed and surrounded by police, that shocked the world.
Chow was released a day later after posting a $20,000 bail and paying a surety of $180,000 (in Hong Kong dollars). Still, she is likely to go to prison for her activism sooner rather than later. As the Chinese police are known for their cruelty, especially towards female inmates, the rest of the world should be concerned about her safety.
Before her arrest, Chow told the media: “Under this strong sense of fear of the national security law, it is even more important for us Hongkongers to not surrender, and to continue to believe in the universal values of democracy and freedom.” The courage Chow has demonstrated should inspire us all while putting to shame the cowardly actions of entities like the National Basketball Association.
The NBA and Its Stars Have No Legs to Stand On
Through streaming games and selling merchandise, the NBA and its stars have made billions of dollars from China. Last fall, Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey’s tweet, “Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong” exposed the NBA’s hypocrisy. As soon as Beijing complained about Morey’s tweet, Morey, along with the rest of the NBA, immediately apologized for the “regrettable” comment that “deeply offended” the NBA’s “friends and fans in China.”
LeBron James, the NBA’s biggest star and most well-known self-proclaimed social justice warrior, called Morey’s tweet “misinformed” and stated Morey “wasn’t educated on the situation at hand.” Fans couldn’t believe these words were uttered by the same King James who had once tweeted a moving quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr: “Injustice Anywhere Is A Threat To Justice Everywhere — Our Lives Begin To End The Day We Become Silent About Things That Matter.”
Despite the public outcry against the NBA’s kowtowing to Beijing, the league and its stars refuse to budge on their stance. This year, the league allowed players to wear jerseys with approved messages associated with the Black Lives Matter movement. Yet it banned fans from putting the phrase “FreeHongKong” on their customized jerseys. When fans complained, rather than reconsidering their actions, the league chose to disable the personalization feature on the NBA Store’s online site.
Last month, ESPN released a report that accused NBA officials of ignoring staff’s complaints about human rights violations in its training facilities in China. One of these facilities is located in Xinjiang, where Chinese authorities have imprisoned millions of Uyghur Muslims along with other ethnic minorities.
Don’t expect LeBron to tweet about Chow’s arrest or to see any NBA players wear “StandwithHK” on their jerseys. The next time King James and the rest of the NBA lecture us about standing up for social justice, we should let them know this: So long as they continue to fail to stand up for freedom and American values when it hurts their bottom line, they are complicit in everything the Chinese Communist Party does.
The author is a Federalist freedom champion who must write anonymously to avoid Chinese retribution.