Hundreds chant ‘Liberate Hong Kong’ outside court

Edward Leung appealing six-year jail sentence for his part in violent overnight clash with police in 2016. (AP pic)

HONG KONG: Hundreds of protesters flooded a Hong Kong court to support the appeals case of a jailed activist on Wednesday as the city continued to clean up from a weekend of unprecedented violence, with the subway system set to close early for the sixth straight day.

The crowds gathered outside of Hong Kong’s High Court in the central Admiralty neighborhood, where self-described “localist” Edward Leung, 28, was expected to appear at an appeal hearing Wednesday.

Leung had been sentenced to six years in prison last year for helping to lead a 2016 riot that was one of the worst outbreaks of unrest the city had witnessed at the time.

The crowd of protesters – many wearing masks, despite a recent ban on face coverings that prompted clashes over the weekend – chanted “Release Edward Leung!”

After hearing arguments from both sides in court, a three-judge panel adjourned and said they would rule at a later date, Radio Television Hong Kong reported.

Leung’s more radical approach has gained traction in the recent protests, which have been raging for four months as of Wednesday.

The Asian financial hub was paralysed in an unprecedented stretch of violent protests last weekend, as demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails and bricks at the police and vandalised several subway stations and bank branches.

On Wednesday, the MTR Corp said the train service had mostly returned to normal even though numerous stations and exits remained shut due to “serious vandalism”. Service was ending at 8 pm to allow extra time for more repairs, the company said. The city is bracing for more protests this weekend.

Leung has a broad following among younger activists on the front lines of recent protests, and his 2016 campaign slogan “Liberate Hong Kong! Revolution of Our Time!” is chanted at almost every demonstration.

He was subsequently among the first candidates banned for running in city-wide elections, as the China-backed government asserted that his past support for independence conflicted with Hong Kong’s charter.

The so-called fishball riot in 2016, which began as a protest against government restrictions on unlicensed street vendors during the Lunar New Year, shocked the city at the time. More than 90 police officers were injured and warning shots were fired into the air.

The sentencing judge in Leung’s case described the 2016 incident as “organised violence” carried out with a desire for “revenge” before handing down the second-most-severe penalty to a protester, according to the South China Morning Post newspaper.

Leung was convicted for rioting under a colonial statute that authorities have increasingly used against protesters this year.

Two other defendants in the case, Lo Kin-man and Wong Ka-kui, are also appealing against their rioting convictions.

Although Leung lost an election for an open legislative seat weeks after the incident, he garnered 15% of the vote, demonstrating growing support for radical anti-China politics in Hong Kong.

Several other candidates supporting independence or “self-determination” for the city subsequently won elections, but were removed for altering their oaths of office and other violations.