Localist activist Edward Leung testified on Wednesday about his involvement in the 2016 Mong Kok unrest, in a repeat of his court trial last year.

Last May, Leung was sentenced to six years in jail after pleading guilty to assaulting a police officer and being convicted of one charge of rioting.

Edward Leung
Edward Leung. File Photo: Citizen News.

However, the jury failed to return a valid verdict on one of his riot charges, leading the Department of Justice to subsequently apply for a retrial.

The violent scenes in Mong Kok, which took place on the night of February 8, 2016 into the next day, were triggered by the authorities’ attempts to clear street hawkers over Lunar New Year.

On Wednesday, the defence began making its case after Justice Albert Wong ruled that the prosecution had enough evidence to proceed.

Barrister David Ma, representing Leung, said that the police witnesses treated members of Hong Kong Indigenous – Leung’s former political group – with “coloured lenses”, and seemed to have targeted them during law enforcement.

Ma called on the jury to only judge Leung for his own actions, not those of his former colleagues.

mong kok fehd riot protest
Photo: Kris Cheng, HKFP.

Ma said those police witnesses collectively identified Hong Kong Indigenous members by their blue hoodies, but questioned whether they accurately recalled Leung’s specific acts.

‘I am a Hongkonger’

Leung, taking the stand in a suit and round-rimmed glasses, began his testimony by speaking about his ties to the city.

“I believe I am a Hongkonger, and my roots are here,” he said. The 27-year-old said he was born in Wuhan and moved to Hong Kong when he was one.

Leung had previously said his political awakening was the 2003 anti-Article 23 protests, but on Wednesday he also mentioned the influence of his father, who was a teacher of Chinese and Chinese history.

“He was a cultured man… and taught me to help others whenever I am able,” he said.

As for his democratic ideals, Leung said he learnt them in high school when he read about a political system that was “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

high court
File photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

Leung said he joined Hong Kong Indigenous in July 2015 after being invited by Ray Wong and a high-school classmate. In 2016, he entered the New Territories East Legislative Council by-election.

‘Didn’t want to charge’

Describing the events of the night of February 8, 2016, Leung said he was unsure whether to go to Mong Kok to support the street hawkers, as he was wary of being seen as campaigning.

After arriving at Portland Street by taxi at around 9:40pm, Leung said the streets were “boisterous but peaceful” as pedestrians bought street food from vendors.

“There was a festive spirit, with more than 10 stalls of street hawkers… but there was an implicit sense of order,” he told the court.

Leung said the atmosphere was calm except for a minor incident involving a taxi. However, around 11:45pm, the police pushed a white elevated tower into the crowded street.

He said he wanted to block the police tower from moving forward but failed. Soon after, the police and the crowd clashed, and the police waved their batons and deployed pepper spray, he said.

People at Mong Kok unrest
Photo: Kris Cheng, HKFP.

On the advice of two colleagues, Leung declared that he was hosting an “election parade of under 30 participants” – something he was allowed to do by law as an election candidate.

“If I were to place myself in between the police and the crowd, there would be more consideration on the part of the police,” Leung said. “They would stop hurting the people at the scene.”

The court was shown video footage of Ray Wong, another member of Hong Kong Indigenous, asking the crowd to charge forward as he counted to three.

However, Leung said it was never his intention to rush the police. “I asked [Wong], ‘Rush? How to rush?’ And he replied, ‘If you don’t rush, the police will rush you anyway,’” Leung said.

The High Court trial on Wednesday was the 54th day of a lengthy 70-day trial. Aside from Leung, the court also heard the cases against Yung Wai-ip, Vincent Lam Ngo-hin and Lee Nok-man.

Rioting carries a maximum jail term of 10 years. The trial continues on Thursday.

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.