HONG KONG — Agnes Chow, a pro-democracy activist in Hong Kong, was freed on Saturday after spent more than six months in prison for participating in unlicensed assemblies during large anti-government rallies in 2019, which sparked a crackdown on dissent in the former British territory.
Only a tiny handful of supporters were there, perhaps in response to the government’s threats to imprison any found in breach of a broad national security statute imposed on the region by Beijing a year ago.
Leading democratic campaigners, such as Joshua Wong and Jimmy Lai, have been arrested and are currently serving jail sentences as a result of the Act. Others have sought refuge in other countries. Critics claim that China is now frequently breaking agreements made to Hong Kong after the transfer to Chinese authority in 1997 to protect freedoms pledged for the next 50 years.
She has a sizable following in Japan, where she regularly travels and tweets in her native tongue.
The demonstrations in 2019 began as peaceful marches against proposed laws that may have resulted in criminal suspects being transported to China for alleged torture and unjust trials. Despite the repeal of the Act, protests grew to demand universal suffrage and an inquiry into police abuses, with protestors growing increasingly violent in response to harsh police methods.
China retaliated by enacting a national security law that effectively suppressed opposition in the semi-autonomous region. Defenders claim it will ensure that individuals in charge of the city are Chinese nationalists dedicated to public order and economic progress.
China also restructured Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, giving pro-Beijing delegates a landslide victory. Pro-Beijing corporate groupings currently control practically all of Hong Kong’s media channels, and independent bookstores are becoming increasingly rare. The national security law also grants authorities sweeping powers to monitor internet communication, making it harder to plan protests or simply express critical views of the government or Beijing.
For the second year in a row, an annual candlelight memorial for victims of the deadly crackdown of the 1989 pro-democracy uprising in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square has been canceled. Hong Kong censors were also given the right this week to block films that risk national security, raising worries that freedom of speech in a city previously recognized for its thriving arts and cinema scene is being further constrained.
Carrie Lam, who is facing US sanctions, has been the face of the crackdown on dissent, despite the fact that she is believed to be acting solely on orders from Beijing, whose Communist Party leaders have long viewed Hong Kong as a potential breeding ground for the opposition that could spread across the country.