Leading HK activist jailed for 6 years

Edward Leung also pleaded guilty in January to a charge of assaulting a police officer during the 2016 clashes.
Edward Leung also pleaded guilty in January to a charge of assaulting a police officer during the 2016 clashes.

Pro-independence leader Edward Leung convicted of rioting during 2016 protest

HONG KONG • Hong Kong's leading independence activist has been jailed for six years for his involvement in some of the city's worst protest violence for decades.

Edward Leung was convicted last month of rioting during the 2016 running battles with police, when demonstrators hurled bricks torn up from pavements and set rubbish alight in the commercial district of Mong Kok.

Handing down his jail term yesterday, Judge Anthea Pang said Leung actively participated in the riots, and described his actions as "wanton and vicious".

The 27-year-old was already in custody after pleading guilty in January to a separate charge of assaulting a police officer during the clashes. He was sentenced to one year in jail on that count, with the two terms to be served concurrently.

The 2016 protest began as a seemingly innocuous rally to protect illegal hawkers from health inspectors but it quickly morphed into an outpouring of anger against the authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing.

At the forefront of the clashes were young "localists", a term coined for radical groups promoting a split from mainland China which grew out of the failure of massive pro-democracy rallies in 2014 to win concessions from Beijing on political reform.

At the time, Leung was the head of localist group Hong Kong Indigenous and a rising star on the political scene as the fledgling independence movement gathered momentum, infuriating Beijing.

Judge Pang said the protesters appeared to be "sincere, earnest but wrong-headed people" with strong convictions.

They "will stop at nothing to impose those views" on society, she said, which Hong Kong cannot tolerate as this poses "extremely great danger".

Leung looked calm throughout the hearing and waved at supporters - some of whom reacted emotionally to the sentence - before being led away.

Two other protesters were sentenced alongside Leung to seven years and 31/2 years in prison.

Mr Chris Patten, Hong Kong's last colonial governor, slammed Leung's sentence, which was handed down under the public order ordinance. He said "the vague definitions in the legislation are open to abuse and do not conform" with international standards.

At least 16 people have already been jailed over the clashes, with terms of up to four years and nine months, for a man convicted of rioting and arson. Unlike Leung, none were known activists.

Police fired warning shots in the air as the unrest worsened and scores of people, including officers, were injured, with dozens arrested.

It was later dubbed the "Fishball Revolution" after one of the city's best-loved street snacks.

The defence said Leung, who pleaded not guilty, had no intention to riot but wanted to "protect Hong Kong culture".

Leung testified that his participation in activism was inspired by the pro-democracy slogan, "Without resistance, how is there change?", according to local media.

Multiple pro-democracy activists who want a greater say in how the city is run but do not push for full independence have been prosecuted on protest-related charges over the largely peaceful 2014 Umbrella Movement.

Leung is the first high-profile activist advocating full independence to come to court. He was previously barred from standing in legislative elections due to his support for independence as Hong Kong's pro-Beijing government cracks down on any advocacy of a split.

Leung resigned as spokesman for Hong Kong Indigenous and left the group in December last year.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 12, 2018, with the headline 'Leading HK activist jailed for 6 years'. Print Edition | Subscribe