Masked protesters gather outside the High Court premises in support of activist Edward Leung, jailed for taking part in the 2016 Mongkok riots, during an appeal hearing for his period of sentence in Hong Kong on October 9, 2019. Picture: AFP/MOHD RASFAN
Masked protesters gather outside the High Court premises in support of activist Edward Leung, jailed for taking part in the 2016 Mongkok riots, during an appeal hearing for his period of sentence in Hong Kong on October 9, 2019. Picture: AFP/MOHD RASFAN

Hong Kong — Hundreds of protesters flooded a Hong Kong court to support the appeals case of a jailed activist who played a key role in building a radical anti-China movement in the former British colony.

The crowds gathered outside Hong Kong’s high court in Admiralty, where self-described “localist” Edward Leung, 28, was expected to appear at an appeal hearing on 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 incident has earned Leung 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 citywide elections, as the China-backed government asserted that his past support for independence conflicted with Hong Kong’s charter.

The more radical approach favoured by Leung 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 Corporation said train service has mostly returned to normal, after the rail operator was forced to halt most lines and services at the weekend. However, numerous stations and exits remain shut due to “serious vandalism”, and service is ending early, at 8pm, to allow extra time for more repairs.

The city is bracing for more protests at the weekend.

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.

Though Leung lost an election for an open legislative seat weeks after the incident, he received 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.

With Fion Li

Bloomberg