14 Jun Interview with Agnes Chow of Demosisto
Agnes Chow is one of the co-founders of activist group Demosisto, and ultimately one of the faces that leads Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. Alongside Joshua Wong and Nathan Law, Chow has become a household name in recent years due to her continuous activism work and activities. Furthermore, Chow has continued to build ties with international government bodies, politicians and leaders to support and shine a light on Hong Kong’s issues, mainly revolving around Beijing’s attempts to encroach the former British colony’s limited freedoms.
Due to COVID-19, I recently interviewed Chow via video call, in an attempt to get her reaction on the recently passed national security law to be implemented by Beijing. We also touched on her own personal legal issues and further political unrest in the city.
Q. Thanks for speaking with me Agnes. First things first, what’s your reaction to the national security law?
When I read the news about national security law, I wasn’t that shocked because of the rumours that the Chinese Government wanted the Hong Kong government to implement Article 23 – even though it’s not the same thing. They are quite similar because they are trying to suppress the democratic movement and also suppress our (Demosistos) connection with the international community but the new law is in the name of ‘national security.’
The difference between the both is now China is trying to implement the national security law directly in Hong Kong and that doesn’t need a discussion in the Legislative Council. The CCP (Chinese Communist Party) is totally ignoring Hong Kong, ignoring the system of Hong Kong, and the one country two systems.
Q. What does this mean for Hong Kong?
Before the implementation of national security law, I would always say the ‘one country two systems’ has become ‘one country, 1.5 system.’ If Chinese authorities can make a direct law for Hong Kong, it’s now the total destruction of one country, two systems.
Maybe in the future but if the Chinese authorities don’t like something happening in Hong Kong, they can use the same method to abuse the right of Hong Kong’s basic law and directly make new laws. It’s very dangerous to the system of Hong Kong and also to the basic political rights and safety of the people.
According to the details announced by the NPC (National Peoples Congress), the Chinese authorities can directly set up an institute here in Hong Kong. It is again very destructive because that means Hong Kong people will be directly ruled by the CCP.
So how could the CCP say there is still one country two systems? Where are the two systems? So there is already no difference in Hong Kong and other cities in China.
Q. What’s Demosistos official reaction to the recent announcements?
One of the reasons we think the CCP has implemented the national security law is that they want to stop our connection with the international community. I think this a very important reason or motivation for them, to be so aggressive to announce a national security law. Demosisto is one of the political groups in Hong Kong that has a lot of connections in the international community that especially last year, many members, including me myself, we would go to many different countries to talk a lot about Hong Kong, with politicians, political party and even government. I think to the CCP that is a threat for them. They don’t want Democrats in Hong Kong to have so many connections with the international community, especially the U.S.A – after the Human Rights of Democracy Act on Hong Kong, was passed last year.
One of our predictions or possibilities in the future that has happened the Hong Kong National Party, is Demosisto might be one of the political groups that it’s operations might be banned by the government. There is a possibility this might happen, but for us, we have conceded this type of suppression to stop our connection with the international community and to try to stop street protests from Hong Kong people.
Our message is we want to emphasise that we won’t give up because we believe these connections and communications with the world is very important for our democratic movement.
Q. What do you think of President Trump’s pressure on China and his voiced support for Hong Kong?
I believe the national security law is not only threatening Hong Kong but threatens all of the countries who have a political and economic connection with Hong Kong. Government’s and corporation’s who have set up their headquarters in Hong Kong might have a lot of concerns of whether the one country two systems is been protected by Hong Kong and China authorities because the new law shows China is not protecting autonomy and one country two systems – they are destroying Hong Kong. More international communities, governments and corporations have to pay attention, not just the United States. I hope more governments can react to this law.
Q. What is Demosisto’s mission now?
From last year many of the demonstrations were not helped by one political party, many of them are initiated by normal citizens and young people. At this stage for Demosisto, of course, myself, Joshua (Wong), Nathan (Law) will continue to join the street protest, against the national security law, against the national anthem law, because this kind of suppression will happen more and more happen in the future. Our important mission is to keep our connection with the international community, not just in the media, but NGO’s and governments. Although their attention might be on the coronavirus, I believe the international community might be reawakened and turn their attention towards Hong Kong.
Q. You’re a YouTuber now. Are you going to make a big input for Demosisto still?
I don’t think I’ve ever been leaving the frontline of Demosisto. I know I’m not the Vice Secretary-General of Demosisto anymore, but I’m still joining in the many things what we are doing, I’ll be doing the same thing as before.
Q. Will you go to protest yourself still?
I’m always on the street. We might not disclose where we are going because of the legal risk we might face. Especially whilst within the court bail period because if we are arrested there is more risk. But we are enjoying the street protests and believe more and more Hong Kong people will come out.
Q. Can street protests affect the outcome of the national security law hearing?
I would say (to implement the national security law) it is such an aggressive method by the CCP, and a quite stupid decision in my opinion because they really have no time to get the support from the pro-Beijing businessmen / political parties and lawmakers for the LegCo Elections. The pro-Beijing parties need the votes and support from Hong Kong people, but if there’s a lot of discontent and anger, these parties might think about how they can maintain votes and support in coming elections.
It might not be a good thing if Beijing wants really strong support from the pro-Beijing side here in Hong Kong.
Q. You recently made a post on social media about the ‘new normal’ in Hong Kong, referring to regular police checks and patrolling the streets. Why do you think that will continue?
Well, it really depends on how the Hong Kong governments and CCP do to Hong Kong people. But what we’ve seen in these few months that they never stop their aggressive suppression towards the people. During the coronavirus, we have had lots of demonstrations – not as large scale as last year – but we’ve had many street protests in the last few months. In the future when the coronavirus has been solved, I would say the protests will be again just like last year- against the national security law, and any suppression in the future.
Q. Do you foresee there to be imminent changes in security measures towards activists, protesters and press in Hong Kong?
Well, it is not impossible that Beijing will set up a national security department in Hong Kong, so if they do this but not only for protesters like us but normal citizens and journalists it also can be very dangerous. For journalists, especially international journalists, they are treated as the enemy because they don’t want the media to report the truth to the world. I think it will be dangerous not just for politicians and protests but ordinary citizens and journalists. Things like the Causeway Bookstore incidents – that it may happen more easily if the Chinese government is more directly within Hong Kong.
Q. Are we already seeing that today via social media in Hong Kong?
I don’t think it’s suppression from the social media companies but the CCP is using a lot of money every year to hire people to leave comments positive about the Chinese government. They hire people for comments, likes and to build an atmosphere that everyone supports Beijing.
If they want a Facebook account to blow out, they can use a lot of money to report our posts and our pages, so I think this is the biggest thing because China is a such a powerfully strong and rich country, they can use their resources to suppress our political rights and freedom of speech on the Internet.
Q. Tell me more about your legal situation with your arrest in 2019?
I was arrested on 30th August 2019 and what we are facing are not only the charges (according to police ‘inciting and participating in an unauthorised assembly), but we have to obey to the courts. We couldn’t go overseas without the permission of the courts, we have to go back home before midnight every day, and last year we couldn’t enter a specific area where the courts specified – like near the protests.
So one of the reasons so many politicians are being arrested is to stop us going overseas to have connections with the international community. As you know Joshua was always going to the U.S and many European countries, where he has a lot of connections. I was going to a lot of Asian countries, especially Japan for international work. But after we were charged, we couldn’t do this work. But now one thing they couldn’t predict is the coronavirus, so no one can fly overseas and we are all in the same environment for now.
We will only be allowed to fly overseas after the case. The next trial is 6th July, but it won’t be the end. The procedure is very time-consuming so it could be in 2-3 years time before it’s over. My travel ban also includes Macau and mainland China.
Q. What update can you give?
Now, I and Joshua are having a judicial review regarding our warrants because our phones were hacked by the Hong Kong police. Joshua’s iPhone was hacked but my Google smartphone wasn’t. We are having a review for the warrant which is more time consuming and the trial would have to wait for the results of the judicial review.
Q. Whilst we are talking about 2019, what was your most memorable protest or event in your eyes?
Chinese University Hong Kong, Polytechnic University and the District Council elections were very important but without June nothing would have happened.
June 9th, 12th and 16th, for me, were very important because it symbolised the start of the movement and also without the fight in June the extradition law would be passed already.
Q. As for 2020, what are your thoughts on COVID19 and the authorities rejecting protest approvals?
The health of everyone is important (from COVID19) but the Hong Kong government is trying to use COVID19 as an excuse to stop our street protests. But for me, even if the government uses strong methods to arrest and stop gatherings it will not stop the discontent in peoples mind. I believe many people will come again and COVID19 won’t exist forever. The Hong Kong government has to face our anger, it’s their responsibility is to listen and respect the public opinion.
Q. Is there a way for the protests to focus on the discontent towards the government directly instead of becoming an ongoing battle and campaign versus the Hong Kong Police?
The question is for Carrie Lam. Why is she always using the police as a shield to avoid listening to the public opinion? They should listen to the opinion and implement universal suffrage and democratic system in Hong Kong. They use the police as a political tool to attack people of Hong Kong. We saw the violence of the police last year – tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets – so the question to Carrie Lam – why is she always using the police to protect herself and the government?
Her so-called interactions with the public last year were so fake because the public opinion is so obvious. Last year 2 million people came out to the street (June 16th 2019), and are demanding to withdraw the extradition bill and the government refused to do so. And later on, they tried to make a lot of shows to ‘interact’ with people, but it’s meaningless because our opinion is very obvious. Even you can see the results from the District Elections (24th November 2019), it is very obvious the opinion of the people, but the government never tries to listen.
The Hong Kong government are not trying to serve the Hong Kong people, they just a proxy for the CCP, they are not a representative of Hong Kong people and these roots we have faced for the last 20 years.
Q. Does it now matter about the LegCo elections if China can just bypass local laws now?
There is a high possibility the government might disqualify candidates before the election and legislators after the election.
But I think getting more than half of the seats is very important for the Democrats in Hong Kong. The LegCo elections are not the only fight, besides its important for people to go out for protests and have connections with the international community. Before the District elections, the international media said the protests are losing their support because the protests were getting stronger, but the District Council election result shows the support is not decreasing.
Q. Do you have any direct message to Hong Kong residents and protesters?
I would say Hong Kong is at a very dangerous stage right now, last year was quite dangerous already but this year with the national security law and abuse of power to set up an institution in Hong Kong, I think it’s entering a more and more dangerous stage.
So the people need to be ready to go on the street and fight.
As told to Tommy Walker on 22nd May 2020.
Agnes Chow Further Links