Hong Kong independence activist Edward Leung has been jailed for six years for his part in violent demonstrations in February 2016, the latest in a series of prison terms handed down against pro-democracy activists in the city in the past year.
Edward Leung Tin-kei, the former convenor of pro-independence political group Hong Kong Indigenous, was found guilty in May on one count of taking part in a riot. He had previously plead guilty to assaulting a police officer.
Solicitor Jonathan Man, part of Leung’s legal team, told CNN the young man had been sentenced to six years in jail for rioting and 12 months for assaulting a police officer. The sentences will be served concurrently, he added, meaning he will serve up to six years in total.
Fierce clashes between police and citizens, known in Hong Kong as the “fishball revolution,” broke out on the night of February 8, 2016 over authorities attempts to shut down a local food market during the Lunar New Year holiday in the shopping district of Mong Kok. The use of the term “fishball” is in reference to a popular Hong Kong street food sold at the market.
Dozens of protestors threw bricks and bottles at police, a number of whom were injured. Police responded with pepper spray and batons.
Leung was only one of a number of young people charged over the violent protests, which police and authorities classified as a “riot.”
The clashes were partially seen as an echo of frustration over Hong Kong’s failed pro-democracy “Umbrella Movement,” which peacefully occupied the city’s streets for weeks in 2014 only to eventually fade without results.
Pro-democracy campaigners have pointed out that in comparison to Leung’s sentence, seven police officers found guilty of beating a protestor during the pro-democracy protests in 2014 received two years in jail.
On his official Twitter account, “Umbrella Movement” leader Joshua Wong described Leung’s sentence as “the harshest imposed on an opposition activist since 1997.”
“(It is) bizarre even in Hong Kong’s present era of political prisoners. The verdict implies that one can be charged with ‘rioting’ merely for being present in an incident defined as a ‘riot’,” he said.
Wong was sentenced to six months in jail in August 2017 over his involvement in the Umbrella protests, along with his fellow activists Nathan Law and Alex Chow.
While Wong and the pro-democracy movement have been fighting for direct election of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, rather than independence from China, Leung advocated complete separation from the mainland.
“We localists are fighting for Hong Kong’s future, because in the past we did not have a chance to determine our political arrangement after 1997,” Leung told CNN in 2016.
“As long as Hong Kong is ruled by China there is no room, no way to realize real democracy and our autonomy. It’s very obvious that our liberty, our rights are being deprived.”
Leung was banned in 2016 by electoral officials from taking in the city’s Legislative Council elections, over concerns he would continue to promote Hong Kong independence.
According to Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, known as Basic Law, the city is an “inalienable” part of China and any advocacy to the contrary is not allowed.
No announcement has been made as yet whether or not Leung will appeal the sentence.