Affectionately nicknamed Grandma Wong by different protesters, she attended practically each demonstration final yr, commuting from the close by mainland metropolis of Shenzhen, the place she moved to 14 years in the past.

Her presence for a lot of symbolized how political dissatisfaction in Hong Kong minimize throughout age teams, even when these on the streets had been most frequently younger folks dressed in black. Her flag was an incendiary taunt implying to many who the town was ruled higher below British colonial rule than Chinese language.

Final month after a lengthy absence, Wong resurfaced in Hong Kong, alleging that she had been detained in mainland China for 14 months by the authorities there.

She says that late one night time in August final yr, after being discharged from a Hong Kong hospital the place she was handled for accidents sustained when riot police stormed a subway station, she was prevented from getting into Shenzhen.

“I (was) frightened, I really feel my hand was shaking,” she says.

Wong says that after being held for 24 hours on the border, she was despatched to 2 detention facilities, earlier than being launched on bail for a yr. “(I was) so frightened each second,” she says of the ordeal.

Wong, who claims she didn’t have entry to a lawyer all through the method, says the Chinese language authorities questioned her about her function in the protests, repeatedly asking: “Why do you fly your British flag? You’re Chinese language.” She says she was threatened with 10 years imprisonment if she did not speak. Wong says she advised the authorities she all the time protested alone, and by no means joined a political group or protest group.

The Chinese language authorities didn’t reply to MeSlop’s request for remark.

A protester is born

Wong wasn’t in politics rising up. She says she had even felt patriotic to the mainland, the place each her mother and father had been born and had fled from to Hong Kong through the second Sino-Japanese Struggle.

However all that modified for Wong in 1989.

She had solely not too long ago returned to Hong Kong from Vienna, Austria, the place she had been finding out music, when troopers opened fireplace on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing. “I felt actually unhappy once I noticed the bloody scenes on tv,” she says. “The bloodiness and chaos caught with me, so did the protesters’ reluctance to depart (Tiananmen Sq.).” When Hong Kongers took to the streets in solidarity with the victims, Wong joined them. It was her first protest — and sparked a lifetime of political activism.

She later spent a decade drifting by way of jobs in Austria and Hawaii, earlier than working for an NGO in mainland China. “Step by step, I began to check these locations with Hong Kong: Why in some locations folks reside so fortunately, and locations just like the countryside on the mainland are so depressing?” she says.

In 2006, Wong purchased a 29-square-meter (312-square-foot) flat in Shenzhen for 90,000 yuan ($13,447) at public sale. In Hong Kong, she says an residence of that dimension would have price near 1 million Hong Kong {dollars} ($129,000), relying on the placement. “The longer I lived in Shenzhen, the extra I felt one thing was not proper with the mainland, and the extra I hoped I might do one thing to safeguard Hong Kong. I started going again to Hong Kong increasingly usually,” she says.

In Hong Kong, the inoffensive-looking, gray-haired flag-flying Wong turned a fixture of the town’s pro-democracy movement, first at its preliminary Occupy Central movement in late 2011. Wong later joined the protests towards the nationwide schooling curriculum in 2012, which launched the political profession of activist Joshua Wong, and was often photographed on the Umbrella movement of 2014, which shut down a central thoroughfare of the town for months. She usually camped out on the road for a number of nights in a row.

Her appearances throughout that movement earned her the moniker Grandma Wong, though she is neither a grandma or a mom. The time period speaks to her figure as an older member of society who has a broader perspective on the town’s historical past, and future.

“I need to inform the middle-aged and previous folks to come back out, (and) stand with the younger folks collectively,” Wong says. “I have to care for the younger folks.”

Captured in China

Because the pro-democracy protests swept Hong Kong final summer season, continuously erupting into violence, for a lot of crossing the town’s busy border with Shenzhen turned more and more delicate. In August, British consulate employee and common protester Simon Cheung was detained on the border for 15 days. China’s Ministry of Overseas Affairs stated he had been held for violating China’s Safety Administration Punishment Regulation, which covers a vary of offenses deemed too minor to be crimes.

Studies emerged of individuals’s telephones being checked for supplies associated to the protests. This October, a Taiwanese man who disappeared after crossing from Hong Kong into Shenzhen final August turned up on Chinese language state media. State broadcaster CCTV aired footage of Lee Meng-chu in a jail uniform, apologizing for endangering Chinese language nationwide safety. China accused Lee of taking pictures of Chinese language troops on the border and protesters in Hong Kong. It isn’t clear if Lee’s confession was made below duress.

Wong says she was additionally detained in August as she tried to cross the border again into Shenzhen.

Officers advised her she was charged with “choosing quarrels and scary hassle.” She says she did not inform her household what had occurred to her, for concern of getting them into hassle.

Wong was despatched to a detention heart the place she shared a cell with 16 girls — she says all of them shared a mattress. The ladies had been monitored by cops 24 hours a day by way of a small window, and the washing space at one finish of the room had two safety cameras, she says.

“(There was) no privateness,” she provides.

The toughest half was the sleep deprivation, she says. “(They) by no means flip the lights off,” she says. “I couldn’t sleep nicely. Each day, solely three or 4 hours on common.”

Wong was launched on bail after signing a confession, and brought on a five-day patriotic tour of Xi’an, in central China. Accompanied by three nationwide safety cops, she says she needed to wave the nationwide flag, sing the nationwide anthem, and watch a movie. They advised her to respect the Chinese language flag.

She was then advised she couldn’t depart Shenzhen for one yr.

“The nationwide safety policemen (would) come to my very own residence, or they known as me to the small police station,” she says. “Generally they scared me at that police station.”

After her bail interval ended, she says she needed to wrangle with officers for a number of days to get a bail completion certificates. When she lastly acquired it on October 2, she hurriedly packed her belongings and went straight to the border with Hong Kong.

Again in Hong Kong

When Wong was lastly in a position to cross into Hong Kong final month, it was a big aid, she says. “That second (of returning) was actually, actually completely happy,” she says. “However I did really feel sorrow, as a result of the Hong Kong policemen (might) instantly deliver me again to the police station … it is potential.”

Whereas she was in the mainland, Hong Kong had modified — in June, Beijing imposed a nationwide safety legislation on the town, which has made it simpler to punish protesters and decreased the town’s autonomy.

Now residing in short-term lodging in Hong Kong, she is attempting to meet up with the occasions of the previous yr and is having fun with with the ability to learn the information with out Chinese language on-line censorship, as she works out her subsequent steps. Wong says she will not return to mainland China until the political system modifications.

She additionally says she won’t cease protesting. She even wears a necktie embossed with the phrases “liberate Hong Kong” — a in style protest slogan that has now been successfully outlawed by the nationwide safety legislation, as it’s deemed as supporting separatism.

This week, she was on the court docket home in Hong Kong to assist Tony Chung, the primary public political figure to face costs below the nationwide safety legislation, and she has publicly supported 12 younger individuals who had been arrested on the mainland attempting to flee Hong Kong by boat for Taiwan earlier this yr.

Wong is urging different younger individuals who can depart legally to attempt to begin a life elsewhere. She says it is too late for an “previous girl” like her to do the identical — so she will keep to combat. “I need to shield the younger folks,” she stated, to allow them to “to migrate to different international locations.”

All of this will entice the ire of the Hong Kong authorities however it’s a threat she says she is prepared to take.

“It is inconceivable for me to be quiet,” she says. “I am able to go to jail once more.”

MeSlop’s Jadyn Sham and Eric Cheung additionally contributed to this report.