The Hong Kong activist who kept fighting after husband's arrest

"It's our duty to history that we shall not let others alter our history and memories," says Chan Po-ying (Peter PARKS)
"It's our duty to history that we shall not let others alter our history and memories," says Chan Po-ying (Peter PARKS)

Hong Kong activist Chan Po-ying became one of the city's only pro-democracy voices after her prominent husband's arrest in 2021, refusing to give up the struggle they had waged together for decades.

Her husband Leung Kwok-hung, better known by his nickname "Long Hair", was among the 47 people charged with subversion in the largest case under a national security law imposed by China to cull the city's protest movement.

He, along with 13 others, had insisted they were innocent but were convicted on Thursday.

They, like the 31 others who pleaded guilty, could face life in jail. Their sentencing is expected later this year.

Two were found not guilty.

Until her husband's arrest, Chan was the less well-known half of the couple, despite the fact that she had co-founded alongside him the city's League of Social Democrats party in 2006.

Months after Leung was arrested, 68-year-old Chan took up the party's leadership.

"Long Hair is still here so I of course must hang in there," Chan told AFP in a series of interviews in the months leading up to the verdict.

"I look forward to welcoming him out of the prison someday. On the other hand, as a citizen with faith and ideals, what I have been insisting on is that we should be able to sustain some of our basic rights."

- 'Toughest time' -

Despite her love for Leung, she had long battled to be seen as a political actor in her own right.

Following his arrest, however, she reluctantly accepted the label in activist circles of "Long Hair's wife", and her profile began to rise.

"It was probably the toughest time for me -- all of a sudden I was walking in front," said Chan.

Following China's crackdown on Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement, the League of Social Democrats became one of the city's last remaining opposition bodies.

The authorities enacted the national security law after hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets in 2019 to call for more freedoms in Hong Kong.

The crackdown saw hundreds arrested or going into self-exile.

But a few, like Chan, have continued the fight. She has regularly manned a street booth set up to criticise public policies, and taken part in tiny protests held under heavy police surveillance.

On Thursday, she and three others attempted to stage a small demonstration outside the court, while judges heard the case of the 47.

"We just want to express our opinion, I don't know why police are hindering us," she said. "Hong Kong should still be a place with freedom of expression and of assembly."

Police said she and her fellow protesters were arrested later "for disorderly conduct in a public place".

- 'This is not him' -

In March, Hong Kong authorities introduced a new security law, which they said was necessary to plug legal loopholes left behind by the first one.

The new rules could see Leung's sentence prolonged and, now that he has been convicted, Chan's visits to prison could be reduced from 15 minutes daily to four times a month, for 30 minutes at a time.

"In the past, I could discuss with Long Hair but now it seems I am all on my own so I need to share more with my friends," Chan said.

And while Leung has grown more affectionate to her during her visits, she said she misses the way he was before.

"This is not him... this is a man distorted by prison," she said.

- 'Our duty to history' -

Relatives of other defendants have chosen to keep a lower profile.

Emilia Wong is the girlfriend of Ventus Lau, one of the activists who had pleaded guilty.

She said her boyfriend was sent into solitary confinement after she wrote a jocular post on social media, saying that he could enjoy the sea view from his cell.

"They don't want you to maintain any presence in society," Wong said.

"Now it's quite difficult for me to think about the future because it's too uncertain."

But Chan said it was important that people keep speaking up.

"What we have been trying to emphasise is that we don't want society to be voiceless," she said.

"When there is no other narratives than the one and only official version, I think as a humble citizen and resident, it's our duty to history that we shall not let others alter our history and memories," she added.