Prosecutors accuse Hong Kong activist Edward Leung of inciting crowd on first day of Mong Kok riot trial
Court expects trial to last for at least 60 days, with almost 100 witnesses called to give evidence
Hong Kong prosecutors began to set out their allegations in a high-profile riot trial on Wednesday, recounting a night of violent unrest incited by two pro-independence activists, telling a crowd to “protect” the city.
Prosecutor Eric Kwok Tung-ming SC accused both Edward Leung Tin-kei and Ray Wong Toi-yeung of using a megaphone to provoke the crowd during a stand-off with police in Mong Kok, a popular shopping hub, on February 8 and 9, 2016.
Confronted by police officers attempting to disperse the crowd, Leung said those in the crowd were not Hongkongers if they were willing to accept being kicked away by officers from “public security” and the “urban management force”, two mainland security departments. “If you are a Hongkonger, let’s protect our city and our culture,” Leung said, as captured in a video played in court.
“Ready? Three, two, one, go!” Wong yelled later, in footage shown to a panel of nine jurors. The crowd, some also wielding long sticks, began charging towards police officers who resorted to using shields and pepper spray.
Despite repeated warnings from police, Kwok said, the two, clad in a blue tops and black surgical masks, did not stop broadcasting themselves to the crowd. “It was unfortunate that there was no cooperation,” said the prosecutor.
Leung has denied one count of inciting others to riot with Wong, although Wong is not a defendant in this case.
Leung, who has been remanded in custody since he admitted to one count of assaulting a police officer last month over the same incident, also pleaded not guilty to two further counts of rioting. Both Leung and Wong claimed they were part of Hong Kong Indigenous, a pro-independence group, according to court videos.
The prosecutors opened their case on Wednesday by showing several video clips taken by police on duty on the night of the incident. Five women and four men were sworn in to be the jurors in the trial that is expected to last for 60 days and hear from almost 100 witnesses.
Kwok said it all started at 8pm on February 8, 2016, the first day of Lunar New Year, when a crowd converged on Portland Street outside Langham Place. Wong was spotted at the scene before conflicts arose between street vendors and officers from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department about an hour later.
As the crowd continued to swell – to a point where the street was packed – there was a complaint of a taxi running over a passer-by, which prompted police officers to take to the scene to investigate.
A stand-off between the crowd and police officers ensued after 10pm, as Wong used his megaphone for the first time to urge the crowd to block police officers from advancing. “Go away,” some yelled, as seen in the video clips.
The prosecutor said the situation soon deteriorated as members of the crowd began hurling objects toward the police, even though the police were retreating. Wong, he said, later took to the roof of a minivan to continue spreading provocative messages shortly before midnight.
After 12am, he told the jury, “something unusual happened”. He said some in the crowd began to put on armour and held up shields.
He said Wong did not stop broadcasting himself to the crowd despite being repeatedly warned by officers. Meanwhile, Leung used an amplifier to speak for the first time, calling on the crowd to protect Hong Kong.
As police issued an ultimatum for the crowd to disperse shortly before 2am, Kwok said, Wong told the crowd: “Our Hongkongers and [those from] Hong Kong Indigenous will fool with you until the end,” he said.
The crowd also turned a deaf ear to the police’s call to stop hurling glass bottles in their direction, he said, as court footage captured the sound of glass shattering.
When police warned people at the scene of a possible unlawful assembly, Leung insisted he was entitled to take part in what he called an “election assembly”, without having to notify the police, as his group was running for the Legislative Council by-election at the time.
Wong then signalled for the crowd to start charging, Kwok said.
The prosecutor will continue with his remaining opening remark on Thursday.
Leung’s co-defendants, Lee Nok-man, Lo Kin-man and Lam Ngo-hin, have denied one count of rioting. Lam also pleaded not guilty to a further count of taking part in an unlawful assembly.
The fourth co-defendant, Lam Lun-hing, has denied three counts of rioting.