Hong Kong independence activist Edward Leung found guilty of rioting but cleared of incitement over Mong Kok unrest
The 26-year-old member of localist group Hong Kong Indigenous had been on trial since January over the night of chaos that unfolded across Mong Kok in February 2016
A young activist widely regarded as the face of Hong Kong’s marginalised independence movement was found guilty on Friday of rioting, but cleared of incitement over his high-profile role in one of the city’s worst outbreaks of civil unrest in recent years.
Edward Leung Tin-kei faces up to 10 years behind bars after a nine-member jury unanimously convicted him following three days of deliberations, ending a 54-day trial that provided vivid details of the Mong Kok riot in 2016.
Prosecutors painted the 26-year-old as a central figure in the clashes between police and a violent mob that began with a scuffle between street hawkers and municipal staff in Portland Street on the night of February 8, the first day of the Lunar New Year holiday.
Leung and a localist comrade, Ray Wong Toi-yeung, were accused of playing a leading part in the violence and inciting the angry crowd to attack police officers outside the popular Langham Place shopping mall in the small hours of the next day.
The verdict meant the jury found Leung had indeed taken part in the riot, but did not play a central role.
Leung’s co-accused, Lo Kin-man, 31, was also found guilty of rioting, while Lam Lun-hing, 24, was cleared of three counts of rioting.
But the jury was unable to reach a verdict on two other defendants, Lee Nok-man, 21, and Lam Ngo-hin, 23, and on one more count of rioting faced by Leung.
Lam was acquitted of another charge of unlawful assembly.
Several other rioters have previously been found guilty in the city’s courts over the Mong Kok riot, but Leung’s guilty verdict was the most significant.
Wong, the other alleged leader of the riot, remains at large after he absconded last year.
When the verdicts were read out on Friday, Leung showed little sign of surprise. He looked up and smiled at times, before waving goodbye to the other defendants as they left the dock.
Public barred from courtroom at Edward Leung’s Mong Kok riot trial after picture of jurors leaked by email
“Protect Hong Kong,” he told them, before being taken away by prison officers. He had already spent four months in police custody.
But there was an outburst of emotion from the other defendants. A sobbing Lee, his fate still in limbo, and Lam Lun-hing, fully acquitted, embraced Lo in tears.
Less than an hour before Leung’s verdict, members of the public were booted out of the courtroom after someone took a photo of at least four jurors and sent it to an email account belonging to the judiciary’s complaints office, flouting the rule against photography in court.
The incident could pressure the jurors and “subject them to interference”, presiding judge Madam Justice Anthea Pang Po-kam told the court.
Note to judge indicates Mong Kok riot trial jurors still undecided on some charges faced by Hong Kong localist Edward Leung
She ordered the public out of the courtroom, announcing that the jurors had reached their verdict, and police would escort them back home.
In February the trial was also temporarily disrupted when a man claiming to be a tourist took photos from the public gallery. He circulated at least one picture on Chinese social media app WeChat.
Loud cheers and applause erupted outside court on Friday when the jury foreman finally announced in a live telecast that first defendant Lam Ngo-hin had been unanimously cleared of unlawful assembly, but the euphoria soon died down when the guilty verdicts followed.
During the trial the court heard testimony from a police officer who said he had to fire two warning shots at protesters hurling rubbish bins and crates to protect his unconscious colleague.
Throughout the night, the mob threw bricks at officers and lit fires on the streets of the shopping district.
Before the trial Leung pleaded guilty to one count of assaulting a police officer. He admitted physically assaulting the sergeant by kicking and hitting him with a wooden board.
Lee was accused of striking the officers with a shield, while Lo, Lam Ngo-hin and Lam Lun-hing allegedly threw various items, including water bottles and bricks.
Wong and another man, Li Tung-sing, were also originally defendants in the trial, but they absconded last year, prompting the court to issue arrest warrants for them.
Mitigation for Leung, Lo and another defendant, Wong Ka-kui, who pleaded guilty at the beginning of the trial, is scheduled for Monday next week. Leung, Lee and Lam Ngo-hin are expected to return to court in June when prosecutors will reveal whether they will seek a second trial for the trio.
Leung’s defence counsel, Edwin Choy Wai-bond, said his client had yet to consider an appeal, and was focused on mitigation.
“Of course, we are not satisfied,” he said, insisting Leung had only assaulted a police officer, to which he had already pleaded guilty.
A victorious Lam Lun-hing meanwhile walked out of the courtroom with both hands in the air and embraced his family and friends.
“Thank you for everyone’s support,” he said with a bow.
When asked how he was feeling, Lam breathed a long sigh and replied: “I need a very long break. The past two years have been a great ordeal. I couldn’t work, I had no pay, my family was under financial pressure.”
His father, who shook his fist in the air and hugged his friends on hearing the verdicts, said he felt excited and relieved, but still very nervous.