Hong Kong’s leading independence activist was jailed for six years Monday for his involvement in some of the city’s worst protest violence for decades.
Edward Leung was convicted in May 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, 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 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.
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 it poses “extremely great danger”.
Two other protesters were sentenced alongside Leung to seven years and three and a half years in prison.
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.
“It is disappointing to see that the legislation is now being used politically to place extreme sentences on the pan-democrats and other activists,” Patten said in a statement issued by Hong Kong Watch, an NGO that monitors the city’s freedoms.
Veteran democracy advocate and lawyer Alan Leong criticised the court’s judgement that political reasons could not be admitted as a mitigating factor.
Source: Channels tv