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Hong Kong Court Quashes Appeal From Protest Movement's 'Spiritual Leader'

2020-04-29 -- Hong Kong's Court of Appeal has dismissed an appeal by a jailed Hong Kong politician who advocated "separation" between the former British colony and mainland China, upholding his six-year jail term for "rioting" during the 2016 "fishball revolution" in Mong Kok.

Edward Leung, who is widely regarded as the "spiritual leader" of the pro-democracy and anti-extradition protest movement, once headed the now-defunct political group Hong Kong Indigenous, which campaigned for Hong Kong to be allowed to maintain its separation from mainland China.

He is credited with coining the slogan "Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution in Our Time," during his 2016 Legislative Council election campaign, a cry which became the rallying cry of the protest movement that rocked the city for several months beginning last June.

The Court of Appeal said the sentence was not excessive, "given the circumstances surrounding the riot at Argyle Street, including the fact that for no reason, and when there was no confrontation, the assembled crowd attacked police officers with no anti-riot gear from behind and also the severity of the violence used."

The clashes came after Hong Kong Indigenous mobilized people to gather in the area Feb. 8, 2016, in support of unlicensed hawkers who had been raided by police in Mong Kok.

The court said Leung's personal beliefs that Hong Kong should maintain its separate identity didn't lessen his culpability.

It also dismissed appeals from fellow defendants Wong Ka-kui and Lo Kin-man, who are serving three-and-a-half and seven-year jail terms respectively. Lo's lawyer said he would appeal to the Court of Final Appeal.

Support continues

Leung, who was convicted of "assaulting a police officer" and "rioting" during the Mong Kok unrest, didn't appear in court on Wednesday, but a crowd of supporters gathered outside the building with banners, shouting slogans.

A supporter who gave only his surname Chan said he was disappointed with the judgment, and that he believed Leung should have gotten a reduction in sentence.

"I'm very disappointed," Chan said. "Maybe the judge disapproved of his methods at the time, and he was perhaps due for a punishment, but I don't think it should have been so long."

Chan said support continues for Leung even while he is in jail.

"I want him to know that he is not alone," Chan said. "Many people remember him, even though he's in jail."

"Maybe his methods aren't acceptable to the average person ... but I want to thank him for his efforts."

Civic Party lawmaker Alvin Yeung said the decision might herald a new era of much tougher sentencing for people convicted of rioting by Hong Kong's courts.

"Of course it's a shame that young people who care passionately about Hong Kong are facing such long sentences," Yeung said. "But the sentencing guidelines given by the Court of Appeal have to be followed by the lower courts, which will likely set an unshakeable precedent."

Pressure from Beijing

Hong Kong Indigenous was founded to campaign for the maintenance of a separate identity for Hong Kong since the 1997 handover to mainland China, but Beijing has put pressure on Hong Kong officials in recent years to ensure that no one advocating greater independence or autonomy for the city can take part in public life.

Plans by Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam to allow the extradition of alleged criminal suspects to face trial in mainland China sparked mass street protests starting in early June that were soon followed by widespread public anger at police use of force against peaceful demonstrators, and demands for fully democratic elections.

Lam has since formally withdrawn the hated amendments to the city's extradition laws, but has stopped short of meeting protesters' demands for an amnesty for arrestees, an independent public inquiry into police violence and abuse of power, an end to the description of protesters as "rioters," and fully democratic elections.

A January opinion poll by Reuters found that most of Hong Kong's residents supported the five demands of the protest movement, with more than one third of respondents saying they had attended a protest.

Only 30 percent said they were opposed, compared with 59 percent of those polled who supported the movement.

Reported by Lau Siu-fung for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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