Hong Kong democracy activist Agnes Chow described prison as ‘agony’ on Saturday after she was released on the second anniversary of the city’s huge democracy rallies, with police out in force and protests now all but banned.
Two thousand officers have been placed on standby after social media calls for residents to commemorate the failed democracy demonstrations.
Authorities have kept a coronavirus prohibition on public gatherings, despite the city recording just three local infections in the last month.
A Beijing-imposed national security law has also criminalised much dissent and most of the city’s democracy leaders have been arrested, jailed or fled overseas.
On Saturday morning, one of those figures walked free.
Chow, 24, was mobbed by waiting media but opted for a quiet exit, making no comment.
Instead, she wrote a short Instagram post after her release.
‘The... agony is finally over,’ she wrote, adding that she intended to rest after becoming ‘weak’ while behind bars.
Chow hails from a generation of activists who cut their teeth in politics as teenagers and became an inspiration for many chafing under Beijing’s increasingly authoritarian rule.
She spent around seven months behind bars for her role in a 2019 protest outside the city’s police headquarters. Fellow youth activists Joshua Wong and Ivan Lam were sentenced in the same case.
Chow’s release comes at a sensitive time.
Two years ago on June 12, thousands of protesters surrounded the city’s legislature in an attempt to stop the passage of a bill that could have allowed extraditions to mainland China’s opaque judicial system.
Riot police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the huge crowds.
Footage of the clashes deepened public anger, fuelling what became an increasingly violent movement calling for full democracy that raged for seven straight months.
Huge crowds rallied week after week in the most serious challenge to China’s rule since Hong Kong’s 1997 handover.
Beijing’s leaders have dismissed the call for democracy, portraying those who protested as stooges of ‘foreign forces’ trying to undermine China.
They have since overseen a sweeping crackdown that has successfully curbed dissent and radically transformed the once outspoken semi-autonomous city.
The spear tip of that crackdown is the national security law.
More than 100 people have been arrested under the new law, including Chow.
She has not yet been charged but dozens of others have, including jailed pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai.
Most have been denied bail and they face up to life in jail if convicted.
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