Hong Kong independence activist Edward Leung has been released after serving 4 years in prison


Hong Kong independence activist Edward Leung has been released from prison on Lantau Island, after spending four years in a maximum security facility for participating in a riot in 2016.

The 30-year-old activist’s release comes as more than 150 people have been arrested under Beijing’s national security law, enacted in 2020, which criminalizes the acts and calls for secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers.

Edward Leung.

Leung was released from Shek Pik prison before 3 a.m. Wednesday after officials said his release would take place overnight for his own safety. Metal barriers prevented journalists from approaching the prison gates. Leung boarded a police van and was escorted by four police vehicles.

At around 5:45 a.m., he said on Facebook that he had reunited with his family, but would stay out of the public spotlight and not use social media: “After four years, I want to cherish the time precious that I have with my family and resume a normal life. I want to express my sincere gratitude for all your care,” he wrote, according to AFP.

On Tuesday, Leung’s family members had urged supporters to refrain from showing up at the remote facility: “Time has flown by like water. Edward spent four summers and winters in prison. He was blessed to be so deeply loved by everyone, who never left him as he struggled through those four years,” the post read. “The days have been hard, but they have not been spent in vain.”

Image: Facebook screenshot.

The page was later removed in accordance with legal advice.

After failing his appeals, Leung was transferred to a maximum security cell in 2020. He usually worked on bookbinding during his time in prison, local media reported. He is likely to remain under law enforcement surveillance even after his release, including by national security authorities, the SCMP reported.

Leung was sentenced to six years behind bars in 2018 after being found guilty of rioting and assaulting a police officer in Mong Kok during protests in February 2016. He was found guilty of hitting the officer with a plastic cylinder and a wooden board from behind and kicking him.

Peddlers and parallel traders

During the Lunar New Year in 2016, activists – including members of the political group Hong Kong Indigenous, of which Leung was a spokesperson – called on the public to attend festive night markets. Protesters had come to support local street vendors, whom authorities had tried to drive off the streets.

Hong Kong indigenous founder Ray Wong confronts police during the 2016 Mong Kok protest. File photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

But violence erupted between police and protesters as people swarmed Mong Kok in support of the campaign. Dozens of protesters have been jailed for their involvement in the clashes, including Leung.

Although he has remained largely out of public view since being put behind bars, Leung was one of the city’s most prominent activists who advocated for independence and “localist” beliefs in the alongside the natives of Hong Kong. Authorities have since made calls for independence illegal.

Formed in January 2015, the group emerged as a radical voice on the fringes of the city’s political spectrum in the aftermath of the 2014 pro-democracy umbrella movement.

The group saw itself as an alternative to mainstream voices of the time, including mainstream pan-Democrats and well-known student leaders such as Joshua Wong, Alex Chow and Lester Shum, who championed peaceful protest and civil disobedience.

Instead, Leung and his colleagues argued for “the use of force against tyranny” and believed Hong Kongers should have an identity and state separate from China’s, with the right to determine their own. political future. As a result, Chinese authorities called the 2016 protests “separatist.”

Edward Leung. Photo: Cloud.

In 2015 and 2016, the number of mainland Chinese shadow traders purchasing duty-free milk powder or cosmetics in the city’s northern districts increased. Pharmacies, cosmetics shops and jewelry stores responding to the explosion in demand have driven out many small local businesses.

Sensing growing frustration among residents who have seen their daily lives disrupted, Hong Kong natives have staged protests with other localist activists in parallel business hotspots, such as in Sheung Shui, Tuen Mun and Sha Tin. Their campaign to drive out visitors from mainland China under the banner of “Reclaim Tuen Mun” or “Reclaim Sheung Shui” ended with dozens of arrests.

Thousands of protesters flooded Tuen Mun Park shouting slogans such as “get Tuen Mun back”. File photo: inmediahk.net by CC 2.0.

But Leung’s most important – or perhaps only – legacy is a now criminalized eight-word slogan he coined while running for a Legislative Council by-election in 2016.

Slogan in eight words

During the anti-extradition bill protests that rocked the city in 2019, the slogan “Free Hong Kong, revolution of our times” came to overshadow the one that had popularized it years earlier.

Asked by reporters what “the revolution of our time” meant in his campaign slogan, Leung replied, “You will know when the time comes.”

He ultimately lost the election, winning 66,500 – or around 15% – of the vote. The group and its supporters nevertheless considered it a victory for their new political party.

Edward Leung Tin-kei. Photo: Dan Garrett.

Leung ran again in the 2016 parliamentary elections several months later. Election officials have asked all hopefuls to sign a letter declaring Hong Kong an inalienable part of China as a precondition to entering the race. After failing to challenge the demand in city courts, Leung relented and signed.

But a senior election official said Leung had not “genuinely” changed his pro-independence stance and eventually barred him from running.

By the time Leung’s slogan reappeared in 2019 as a bugle call chanted by hundreds of thousands of protesters, Leung had been in prison for over a year. Meanwhile, Hong Kong native co-founder Ray Wong had left Hong Kong for Germany, where he had been granted asylum a year earlier. The group was almost asleep.

Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our time. File photo: May James/HKFP.

In a rare message to the public in late July 2019, at the height of protests against the extradition bill, Leung penned an open letter from prison, urging protesters not to be consumed by hatred, while congratulating them on “rewriting history”.

“When true justice has not prevailed, you may be filled with rage. This is only normal. But I beg you not to let hate take hold of you,” he wrote.

Then, in June last year, prosecutors in the city’s first national security case unfurled a black flag bearing the slogan in front of three national security judges.

Tong Ying-kit rides a motorbike displaying the flag ‘Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our time’ on July 1, 2020. Photo: NowTV screenshot.

Although Leung himself was never called as a witness, after days of deliberation by a historian and sociologists, judges ruled the slogan incited secession and sentenced a motorcyclist to nine years in prison. rammed into police officers while raising the flag.


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