The former head of the student union of the Chinese University Hong Kong (CUHK) left Hong Kong in March after “a person with a [mainland] Chinese background” tried to meet him to talk about the Alternative Citizens’ Deliberative Platform.

Ernie Chow, who was the president of the CUHK student union in 2016, said on Facebook on Sunday that he left the city on March 25 for Canada.

Ernie Chow (centre). Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

Chow became the secretary of the organising committee of the Alternative Citizens’ Deliberative Platform – a group convened by several pro-democracy district councillors. It was disbanded last December before it officially launched over “irreconcilable differences” among the pro-democracy camp.

The platform – which had yet to state its aims – was branded as “illegal” by Secretary for Home Affairs Caspar Tsui. In an interview published in state-owned newspaper Ta Kung Pao on Christmas Day, 2020, he said the group “blatantly challenging the Central government’s bottom line.”

‘Rat out for self-protection’

In Sunday’s Facebook post, Chow claimed that he was invited to talk to an individual about the platform in March, during the hearing of the 47 democrats charged under the national security law for their participation in a primary election for the since-postponed Legislative Council (LegCo) election.

“I received an invite – there was a person with a Chinese background wanted to invite me to a meeting via a middleman, and specifically said we have to talk about the Alternative Citizens’ Deliberative Platform,” the post read.

“Reading between the lines, it seems that [they] were implying that they already have intelligence – if I wanted to be safe, I’d have to rat [people] out for self-protection,” Chow said.

The 24-year-old said that he did not attend the meeting, and added that he got married on March 15, before leaving Hong Kong: “Obviously I didn’t go to the meeting, and who this person is with a Chinese background doesn’t matter anymore,” said Chow, adding that he was concerned he could be charged under the security law. “What matters is that, if the next person is me, do I want to go to prison, or leave Hong Kong?”

The former student leader added that the fact that organisers of the primary election could not escape prosecution “rang a huge alarm bell” for him.

“This is my final answer. I’m sorry my brothers and comrades, I hope you can forgive my cowardice,” Chow wrote, adding that he was not confident that he could “keep his dignity and not surrender nor beg” if he was in court.

In June 2020, Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – bypassing the local legislature – following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, foreign interference and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to public transport and other infrastructure. The move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China.

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Candice Chau

Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.