“If suffering is necessary on the journey to human civilisation, then I will calmly face up to the suffering,” disqualified Hong Kong lawmaker Baggio Leung told HKFP, hours before he began a prison term for trying to enter the Legislative Council despite being barred.
On Wednesday, the Court of Appeal rejected the 34-year-old politician’s appeal against both his conviction for unlawful assembly and the sentence of four weeks’ jail.
Leung admitted before the hearing that he was not optimistic about the outcome but made light of his jail term as “really incomparable to what other protesters are facing.”
He is currently serving his term at Lai Chi Kok Detention Centre together with many other protesters.
Since the anti-government protests erupted in June 2019 over an ill-fated extradition bill, thousands have been arrested for unlawful assembly and on a variety of other charges including rioting – which is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment.
Leung’s case dated back to 2016 when the localist politician, fellow Youngspiration lawmaker Yau Wai-ching and their three assistants attempted to re-enter the Legislative Council (LegCo) chamber after its president Andrew Leung barred them from attending all meetings.
Justice Wilson Chan of the Court of Appeal wrote in his judgement that the defendants’ actions “hurt the dignity of LegCo.”
Leung and Yau were two of the first localist politicians elected to the legislature. But the pair stirred controversy by pronouncing China as “Chee-na” – a derogatory term used during the Japanese occupation period of 1941-45 – while taking their oaths of office.
Leung nonetheless told HKFP before Wednesday’s hearing he did not regret the way he had taken his oath. “If you ask me, I would say I regret not having taken it further.”
As a justification for his pronunciation – and in hopes of being given a second chance to take the oath – Leung told a radio programme at the time that the mispronunciation was due to his “Ap Lei Chau accent.”
“Had I known that the political situation would be as disastrous today, I would not have justified the act back then,” he said.
Leung and Yau faced harsh criticism – including from some of the over 50,000 voters who cast their ballot for them in the 2016 legislative election – for “acting irresponsibly” and costing the pro-democracy camp seats in the legislature.
“Some democrats contend that one should not cross Beijing’s so-called ‘red line’,” Leung said. “I understand where this is coming from… but it’s illogical when the red line is constantly shifting.”
Four years after Leung was ousted, the disqualification of lawmakers or potential lawmakers has become less of a shock. On June 30 Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong to criminalise subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.
In July this year officials barred 12 pro-democracy candidates from standing in LegCo elections scheduled for September. The government later postponed the election itself by a year, citing the coronavirus pandemic.
Following a ruling from China’s National People’s Congress, current legislators can stay in office for another year if they choose, but the pro-democratic camp is undecided on what to do.
“What’s the point of remaining in LegCo when the most despotic national security law is already in force?” Leung asked, disagreeing with those democrats who intend to stay in the interim legislature.
“We should get to the bottom of the question: What are lawmakers seats for?… I doubt if one can still stop any ‘evil laws’ from passing inside the chamber.”
Leung said LegCo’s function has long been nullified since the government can arbitrarily unseat lawmakers, bar activists from standing or postpone elections. “Having said that, I believe elections still matter.”
As an ex-lawmaker and a prominent figure from the localist camp, Leung devoted much of his time this summer campaigning for fresh faces ahead of primary polls held in July by the pro-democracy camp to select candidates for September.
Despite official warnings that the primaries might be illegal, over 610,000 Hongkongers took part – voting largely for candidates not affiliated to traditional parties.
Hong Kong’s localists say they want to preserve the autonomy and local culture of the city and Leung said the movement is growing in popularity. “An overwhelming number identify themselves as Hongkongers. Compared to 2016, it is beyond our expectations.”
All candidates backed by Leung ended up winning, including activists who were newly elected into the district councils last November, as well as those who were active in international lobbying.
Yet as a politician, Leung sometimes feel discouraged just as other protesters do. “I always ponder… how to utilise the political capital that I have.”
Several prominent pro-democracy activists fled Hong Kong to continue lobbying international leaders. Leung’s ex-colleagues Ray Wong and Alan Li of Hong Kong Indigenous were granted asylum in Germany in 2019. An ex-leader from the party, Edward Leung, is currently serving a six-year jail term after being convicted of rioting during unrest in Mong Kok in 2016.
“What would they have done had they been in my position? That’s a question I think about a lot during times of frustration.”
National Security Law
Pro-democracy activists including Sunny Cheung and Democratic Party lawmaker Ted Hui have reported being tailed, allegedly by national security agents, last month. Leung said he also had noticed he was being followed but was not sure by whom.
On August 10, the police force’s new national security department arrested 10 pro-democracy figures including Apple Daily owner Jimmy Lai and his two sons.
“It’s gloomy… and we never know when and who they may come after,” Leung said.
Given what other countries had experienced on the road to democratisation, things could get worse for Hong Kong in days to come, he said, citing Taiwan’s decades of martial law and the Cold War struggle against Communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe.
As the Covid-19 pandemic has shaken up the world, many critics suggested that the outbreak endangered China’s world leadership and radical geopolitical changes may surface in post-Covid era.
“It may sound like a cliche, but the advice to ‘drink more water and stay healthy’ remains true… Drastic change can happen in a very short time frame. We should always be prepared.”