Sacrificing his nursing studies for full-time activism, Owen Chow now spends his life shadowed by mainland China’s authorities. The 23-year-old is considered the unofficial spokesperson of the 12 Hong Kong citizens imprisoned in China – a role that also endangers his freedom.
Talk to you tomorrow. Hope I will not get arrested
When Owen Chow wishes us a good night in the early hours of the 30th of September, he responds to our message as casually as if he would have written about something like catching a bus. Maybe the assonant apathy stems from the fact that the possibility of being arrested accompanies him every day. Owen is a pro-democracy activist and politician in Hong Kong. According to the pro-democracy online news website Stand News, more than 10.000 people have been arrested in Hong Kong since June last year.
In my position I need to have hope.
Owen is the unofficial spokesperson of 12 Hongkongers who are imprisoned in mainland China. The 12 were arrested by the Chinese Coast Guard in the early morning of the 23rd of August, 70 kilometres south-east of the city, after trying to escape to Taiwan with a speedboat. 11 of them had already been arrested before in the context of the pro-democracy demonstrations. And two of them had been charged under the National Security Law (NSL)The National Security Law went into effect in Hong Kong on the 30th of June 2020. It is intended to “prevent, stop and punish” everything that the Chinese government believes could threaten national security. Due to the vaguely worded text of the law, it has caused great uncertainty among the population since its implementation.. Since the 11 men and one woman, aged between 16 and 33 years, were arrested, none of their relatives know about their physical or mental states, and the appointed legal advisors have not been permitted to see them. Today, the authorities will have to announce whether each of the 12 will be formally arrested or released. To raise international awareness, Owen organises a demonstration in front of the Beijing Liaison Office, accompanied by some of their relatives. Also Owen could lose his freedom today because organising assemblies is illegal since the introduction of the NSL.
We have just finished the demo. The father of one of the 12 detainees had to cry. It broke my heart
A few hours after the demonstration, Chinese authorities announce that they approved the arrests of 10 in the group over crossing the national border unlawfully and two others for planning the offence. This means that the 12 won’t be released.
Some of the parents just called me and were crying. I don’t know what to do. Ahhhhhhhhhhh! I am soooooo fucking hopeless!!!!!
I feel depressed now, I am so sorry
Very sorry to hear that, Owen ? Do you know what is going to happen to them now?
Organisation of illegal border crossing is punishable by up to 7 years of imprisonment and illegal border crossing has a maximum sentence of 1 year
That is horrible… can you take any other steps now to help them? The families must be heartbroken now, too
I don’t know, I really don’t know. If someone knows how to save the detainees, please tell me
Do you still have hope?
In my position, I need to have hope. I always ask myself: If we lose hope, who could help the families? It is obvious that my hope is fading day by day due to news like this. But I can’t imagine I will ever express to the relatives that I have lost hope or keep silent when they ask me what we can do to save their children
When we ask Owen one day on the phone what he wants to achieve politically for his home city, he laughs and says he can lo longer respond to this question openly after the introduction of the NSL. Hence, he replies: Democracy and freedom.
Today is the National DayThe People’s Republic of China was founded on October 1, 1949. Since then this date is considered a national holiday. of China. Owen is going downtown with some of his friends. Last year, various demonstrations took place on this date. Almost 300 people were arrested; an 18-year-old demonstrator was shot by a policeman. Owen does not know what is going to happen today because demonstrations have been prohibited since the National Security Law (NSL)The National Security Law went into effect in Hong Kong on the 30th of June 2020. It is intended to “prevent, stop and punish” everything that the Chinese government believes could threaten national security. Due to the vaguely worded text of the law, it has caused great uncertainty among the population since its implementation. was enacted. After the events of yesterday he is eager to express his anger at Chinese authorities by taking to the streets.
Hey Owen, are you already on the road?
Yes. On days like these, the fucking police set roadblocks everywhere
This is the situation I just got out of 😀
Oh no… how annoying! Do you think it is going to be calmer this year? Are you still worried about getting arrested?
Many people ask me if I am afraid of being arrested, but I am not. There were over 10.000 people arrested by the authorities over the last year. I’m not alone. We are always mentally prepared to be arrested when we decide to go out *
Later that day, Owen is having lunch at what is called a yellow restaurantIn Hong Kong, the color yellow stands for the democratic camp and blue for the pro-government camp. Many Hong Kong residents communicate their political affiliation by wearing bracelets in the respective color..
We are at a yellow restaurant taking a rest
Ohh nice, what are you eating?
Hong Kong French toast
This pig is one of the many symbols of the protest movement. We used to be able to easily find the yellow businesses in the city by means of them. Before the NSL, you could see them everywhere in the city, but now, unfortunately, many business owners have decided to tear down lots of protest material *
* This material was originally sent to us as a voice memo. It has been transcribed and edited for clarity where necessary.
Today, Owen arranges an interview with relatives of the Hong Kong 12. The three women – a wife and two mothers – haven’t heard anything from their loved ones for more than five weeks. One quickly forgets there’s a family behind each of the detainees.
Hey Owen, what are you doing?
Meeting with the relatives of the 12 detainees
We did the interview
Thanks a lot ?
The relatives fear consequences and want to remain anonymous. That’s why we don’t show their faces.
I can’t eat and sleep because of this.Mother of a detained son
I won’t leave you and I will wait for you my whole life.Wife of a detained husband
I see China now the way the whole world sees China.Mother of a detained son
“You may not see their faces but they are crying and they look very sad. I have to protect them. I hope you guys can continue standing with us forever.” *
According to Human Rights Watch, three of the Hong Kong 12 are believed to have chronic diseases and are in need of medication. Local Media reports that the only woman amongst the prisoners suffers from depression. Without proper medication, she may confess to crimes she didn’t commit. According to Owen, there is still no reliable information about the health status of the detainees. Their relatives fear that they do not have access to appropriate medical care.
* This material was originally sent to us as a video. It has been transcribed and edited for clarity where necessary.
It’s Saturday and Owen is going on a hiking trip with his friends. Sometimes he needs time out to relax. His political commitment costs a lot of time and energy. Owen hopes to find new strength in the nature around Hong Kong.
Hey Owen, how is it going? Are you on your way to your hiking trip?
Owen doesn’t respond for hours. In the evening he finally answers.
Wow Owen, the material is so nice. It looks beautiful there!
Owen’s friend Lester Shum was also on the trip. He is one of the best-known activists in Hong Kong. Along with Joshua Wong, Shum was one of the leaders of the Umbrella MovementThe umbrella protests took place in Hong Kong from September to mid-December 2014. The protests were triggered by a decision of the Chinese People’s Congress to select the candidates for the Hong Kong administrative chief post through a preliminary selection process. The movement got its name because the protesters used umbrellas to protect themselves from the tear gas used by the police. in 2014. Lester, Joshua and Owen often work together to reach their political goals. “I’m lucky that I met a lot of friends who are supporting my beliefs and also fight for freedom,” Owen told us one day.
Owen leads a dangerous life. He is constantly in danger of coming into conflict with the law. A few months ago, he had to interrupt his election campaign for the pro-democracy primaries for the 2020 Legislative Council election for four days because of the National Security Law (NSL)The National Security Law went into effect in Hong Kong on the 30st of June, 2020. It is intended to “prevent, stop and punish” everything that the Chinese government believes could threaten national security. Due to the vaguely worded text of the law, it has caused great uncertainty among the population since its implementation.. His team had to change his election slogan because it could have been punishable on the basis of the new law.
Have you ever been followed by the authorities because of your activism?
“Yes, I have often been followed since the District Council election last year and the frequency of being followed is increasing. Since the primaries, they use taxis, vans, or private cars. They always use seven-seat vehicles to follow the activists. Once, on the 6th of September, a demonstration took place. A seven-seat vehicle with five men waited for me coming back home next to my building at 3 am.” *
What do you do against it?
Every time, I would write down the licence plate of suspected vehicles. Once I shared the licence plate with Joshua Wong. He said this car followed him as well *
Joshua Wong is an activist and politician from Hong Kong. He gained international attention as one of the leaders of the Umbrella MovementThe umbrella protests took place in Hong Kong from September to mid-December 2014. The protests were triggered by a decision of the Chinese People’s Congress to select the candidates for the Hong Kong administrative chief post through a preliminary selection process. The movement got its name because the protesters used umbrellas to protect themselves from the tear gas used by the police. in 2014. Wong is still active in the pro-democracy movement.
In order to shake off his pursuers, Owen almost always takes a cab. He enjoys the rides because it’s the only time he can catch his breath during his busy days. Owen avoids taking the subway because he accuses the operators of supporting the CCP. He claims that all “real” Hongkongers boycott the subway.
The CCP wants to pressure us by disrupting our daily life. And they also want to know our connections and relationships. *
Owen communicates using encrypted messengers. He uses services like Telegram and Signal, because he is concerned that the CCP could use the data on his cell phone against him. He even suggested leaving the phone we provided for him at home when going to demonstrations.
* This material was originally sent to us as a video on the 6th of October. It has been transcribed and edited for clarity where necessary.
There is news about the 12 detainees. A whistle-blower from within the Hong Kong Government Flying Service (GFS) leaked information which suggests the involvement of the Hong Kong government in the incident. Today, Owen and fellow activists meet for a demonstration at the GFS. The activists demand answers.
Hello! How is it going? Are you already on your way to the demo?
For obvious reasons Owen is very busy today. That’s why he answers our message almost three hours later.
We did a very great job
Is that Joshua Wong next to you?
You were fined?
Yes, 2000 HK Dollar
2000 Hong Kong dollar equal around 250 US dollar or 210 Euro.
Oh no, why have you been fined?
We violated the corona restrictions. Organisation of group gatherings is prohibited
Participating in unauthorized gatherings during the corona pandemic can be punished with a fine of up to 25.000 Hong Kong dollars or up to six months in prison.
“Today some of the relatives, Joshua Wong, Eddie Chu, Lester Shum, and I went to the headquarters of the Hong Kong Government Flying Service to demonstrate. Before the press conference, when I started to speak, lots of police came and stopped us. The reason was that we violated the Corona restriction of prohibited group gatherings and we were fined 2000 Hong Kong Dollars each. After that, we displayed our sources to reveal that the flight mission was a police operation from 4.10 a m to around 8.45 a m on the 23rd of August.”
The leaked data suggests that the Hong Kong government knew about the planned escape of the 12 and allowed the Chinese Coast Guard to intervene. A GFS aircraft and a helicopter are said to have tracked the speedboat of the 12 until the Chinese Coast Guard struck.
What do you think the Western world could do to help Hong Kong?
To be honest, I can’t say what exactly you can do, because of the National Security Law and the fact that I’m still in Hong Kong. But, don’t trust China *
What I can say: Please don’t cooperate with China and don’t allow your government to cooperate with Chinese companies. Please continue to keep an eye on us and stand with us. Stand with Hong Kong forever *
* This material was originally sent to us as a voice memo. It has been transcribed and edited for clarity where necessary.
OMG, when I woke up, I got some more breaking news: HK police arrested 9 more people to charge them with the organization of illegal border crossing.
Owen’s life appears as though it is playing in fast-forward. Owen never stands still. One moment he is holding a press conference, then, within the blink of an eye, he is rushing to the next event. Media all over the world are fighting for quotes from Owen on the 12 detainees. The last messages we receive on some days begin with words like “Hey guys, it is 3 am now…”. Owen’s studies in nursing have fallen off his priority list, and he has not been to class in months.
I wish I could also have a coffee from time to time or go shopping, but I simply don’t have the time.
Even now, after almost 14 days of being in close contact, we are still struggling to grasp the person besides the activist. This is also because Owen is indeed an activist to the bone. “I wish I could also have a coffee from time to time or go shopping, but I simply don’t have the time,” he says. Sometimes he has to remind himself that his life is more than just his activism.
Do you have a song in mind that reminds you of Hong Kong?
Do you sometimes feel guilty thinking of your mother and the dangerous path you have chosen as an activist in Hong Kong?
“Of course I feel guilty, not only sometimes. I feel guilty every time I see my mom.”
I think I’m not a good son because I chose a political path. In times of unrest like these, no parent wants their child to take to the streets. My mother walks slower every day, her hair is getting whiter, her pain is increasing and her vision is deteriorating . She is also scared that her son will be arrested. So of course, I feel guilty **
But don’t you think your mother is also proud of you?
Actually, I don’t know if she is. She always used to tell other people that her son finished all of his homework before playing, got a good grade again, got into university. But I never heard her say that her son is fighting for freedom or is shown on TV. I think she is scared to see me on the news, because today in HK, there are no good things on the news **
What does your family think about the pro-democracy movement?
One of my sisters is a policewoman, which is a job Hongkongers and I really hate. We haven’t spoken since Umbrella revolution, and my mom and other sisters don’t talk to her, either. And of course, we don’t live together. When it comes to family, I always question whether I have three or four sisters. My older sister often jokingly says that she wants to see us fight on the street ***
Why do you hate the police?
“Hong Kong police are only chess pieces of the CCP. They are assisting the evil regime by suppressing the democracy and freedom of Hong Kong. They have lost control and humanity, they deliberately attack Hongkongers, even if they are children, the elderly or pregnant women. They attack people who are powerless. They are just working for money instead of justice. Those fighting for justice are Hongkongers and the police are not considered as Hongkongers, they are the enemy.” *
* This material was originally sent on the 5th of October.
** This material was originally sent to us as a video. It has been transcribed and edited for clarity where necessary.
*** This material was originally sent on the 4th of October as a voice message. It has been transcribed and edited for clarity where necessary.
When Owen talks about his home, he often says, “We Hongkongers”. The activist defines himself through the place and the community he grew up in. When we asked him what would need to happen in order to make him leave Hong Kong, he hesitated. He does not want the CCP to know the answer to this question. He does not want them to know what they would need to do to make him leave his home.
Owen, let’s dream for a moment: Imagine that one day Hong Kong is free of Chinese interference. What would you do?
I would build a house because I believe that a lot of them would be destroyed if there were a war. I would be with my loved one…she may be my mom, if she is still alive by then; she may be my wife or my girlfriend. I believe that many Hongkongers are too busy fighting at the moment and don’t have time for that *
In the preliminary interview we conducted with Owen, we were curious to learn why he had decided to leave behind a promising and safe future and choose the dangerous path of being an activist in Hong Kong – a city whose freedom is crumbling with each day. When he responds, you can hear a slight tone of incredulity – as if the answer to this question is obvious: “We don’t have another choice.”
* This message was originally sent to us as a video. It has been transcribed and edited for clarity where necessary.