HONG KONG -- Agnes Chow, one of the most prominent Hong Kong democracy activists, was released from prison on Saturday after serving about six months over her role in an illegal demonstration outside the city's police headquarters two years ago.
Chow, 24, walked out of the Tai Lam Centre for Women, a correctional facility in northern Hong Kong, at about 10 a.m., greeted by cheering supporters. Reporters asking questions in Cantonese and Japanese surrounded her, but she remained silent before climbing into a waiting Nissan minivan that carried her away.
Later in the day, she posted a message on Instagram, thanking friends for coming out to greet her earlier despite heavy rain. "From now on, I need to rest well and recuperate my body, because I lost too much weight during this period," she wrote.
Chow was charged with inciting and taking part in an unauthorized assembly on June 21, 2019. Her 10-month prison sentence was handed down on Dec. 2, 2020, a day before her birthday. She burst into tears when her sentence was read in court.
She was sent to Tai Lam, a maximum-security prison, at the end of last year after initially staying in the lower-security Lo Wu Correctional Institution near Hong Kong's border with Shenzhen. She was also jailed for a period before sentencing, which apparently was credited against her subsequent prison sentence.
At the same trial as Chow, activists Joshua Wong and Ivan Lam were sentenced to 13.5 months and seven months in prison, respectively, on similar charges. Lam, 26, was released in April, but Wong received another 10-month sentence last month for joining an unauthorized observance of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown in June 2020.
The trio were core members of Demosisto. Founded in 2016, the pro-democracy group developed from a protest movement in the early part of the decade led by students campaigning against a national education curriculum. Critics said its teaching materials and contents glorified the Chinese Communist Party and its rule.
After successfully forcing the government to all but abandon the curriculum, the trio took a leading role in the Umbrella Movement in 2014 that called unsuccessfully for universal suffrage for electing the city's chief executive.
Demosisto then entered candidates in the city's 2016 legislative elections, with Chow herself seeking office in a 2018 by-election until her disqualification. The group disbanded immediately before Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong last June.
Chow was arrested last August for allegedly inciting secession, a crime under the security law. The charge could have led to her extradition to mainland China for trial and the possibility of life imprisonment, but she has not been indicted on this count.
Outspoken media tycoon Jimmy Lai, who was also arrested then, is being prosecuted under the national security law for alleged collusion with foreign forces. The founder of the outspoken Apple Daily newspaper is already serving a combined 20 months in prison for participating in multiple unauthorized assemblies.
Chow has been seen as a leading figure among the city's young activists. She is especially well-known in Japan, which she has visited several times to speak on Hong Kong's democracy struggle in fluent self-taught Japanese. Her Twitter account, written in Japanese, has 579,000 followers.