A former member of a disbanded Hong Kong independence group has lost his bid to challenge a High Court decision jailing him for 12 years over possessing explosives in an industrial unit during the 2019 protests.

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Hong Kong independence flags. File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

The Court of Appeal on Monday refused to grant ex-Hong Kong National Front member Louis Lo permission to appeal his sentence. Lo was given 12 years behind bars in April last year after he pleaded guilty to one count of keeping an explosive substance with an intent to endanger life or property.

The activist was intercepted by the police on July 19, 2019, outside an industrial unit in Tsuen Wan, where around 1 kilogram of homemade triacetone triperoxide – or TATP – was found. Police also found petrol bombs, knives and pamphlets linked to the extradition bill protests in the unit, while pro-independence leaflets were discovered at Lo’s home.

Lo had sought to challenge his jail term, with his counsel David Ma arguing that High Court Judge Andrew Chan erred in treating the criminality of making and keeping explosives as the same. Chan was also wrong to conclude that the activist was the mastermind, Ma said, adding the judge’s finding that Lo’s culpability was akin to the notorious “King of Thieves” Yip Kai-foon was erroneous.

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Hong Kong protest scene from the August 2019. Photo: May James/HKFP.

In Monday’s judgement, Justice of Appeal Maggie Poon said whether Lo had physically participated in making the explosives did not matter, as the crux of Lo’s offence lay in the intent to endanger life and property.

Poon dismissed Ma’s submission that there was no evidence to suggest the activist intended to use the explosives to injure anyone. The appeal judge said Lo’s guilty plea indicated his admission that keeping the explosives was to endanger lives.

Poon also sided with the High Court judge and said he was “entitled” to declare Lo a mastermind. It was obvious that the activist’s role was “active, persistent and pivotal,” she said.

“It is unthinkable that a mere subordinate or keeper with full knowledge of the properties of the explosives stored in the [unit] would place his own life in jeopardy by frequenting the [unit] the way the applicant did,” Poon wrote.

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High Court. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Lo’s other legal representative, Hanif Mohamed Mughal, argued that Chan had wrongly compared the possession of 1 kilogram of TATP to 2 kilograms of TNT in Yip’s case. But Poon ruled his submission was “flawed,” saying the activist had committed the offence during the 2019 unrest and possessed materials advocating for subverting the existing government.

Such circumstances meant it was “not unrealistic” for the judge to conclude the potential risk posed by Lo was “much greater” than the infamous thief.

“With these aggravating features, the judge rightly concluded that whilst Yip was going after money, the applicant was ‘going after the HKSAR Government, the stability of the region, with the intention of creating fear and terror amongst citizens within the society'” the written judgement read.

Poon concluded that Lo did not have a reasonably arguable ground to challenge his term of imprisonment. He must continue serving his sentence, which marked one of the heaviest penalties meted out in cases linked the social unrest.

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Ho Long Sze Kelly is a Hong Kong-based journalist covering politics, criminal justice, human rights, social welfare and education. As a Senior Reporter at Hong Kong Free Press, she has covered the aftermath of the 2019 extradition bill protests and the Covid-19 pandemic extensively, as well as documented the transformation of her home city under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Kelly has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration. Prior to joining HKFP in 2020, she was on the frontlines covering the 2019 citywide unrest for South China Morning Post’s Young Post. She also covered sports and youth-related issues.