A Hong Kong teenager has pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit terrorist activities under the national security law. Five others, all of whom were secondary school students at the time of their prosecution, also pleaded guilty to conspiring to cause explosions.

According to the case details disclosed in the High Court on Saturday, the group planned to target court buildings with explosives. One of them was a member of self-proclaimed revolutionary group Returning Valiant.

High Court
High Court. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Ho Yu-wang, 19, Kwok Man-hei, 20, Alexander Au, 21, Su Wing-ching, 19, and two minors with the surnames Chan and Law, entered their guilty pleas in front of Judge Alex Lee at the High Court on Saturday morning.

All of the defendants were initially accused with conspiracy to commit terrorist activities and an alternative charge of conspiring to “cause explosions likely to endanger life or to cause serious injury to property.”

Only Ho, who was aged 17 when first charged, pleaded guilty to terrorism. The remaining five pleaded guilty to the lighter alternative charge.

According to local media, the case details read out by the prosecution in court suggested that Ho was the “mastermind” who had made the plans and recruited the others to take part.

The prosecution said Ho had actively taken part in the 2019 pro-democracy protests and unrest and had been “radicalised”.

In early 2021, Ho asked his science teacher how to produce TATP – an explosive that has been used in bomb attacks in various countries – and told him about the plan to plant bombs in a court building. The teacher did not tell him how to produce the explosives and refused to lend money to Ho.

Between May and June that year, Kwok, who was a member of Returning Valiant, introduced Ho to a former member of activist group Student Politicism with the surname Cheung.

Kwok was sentenced to a training centre, an alternative to jail for offenders under the age of 21, for conspiring to incite subversion in a separate case in October.

returning valiant
Returning Valiant’s logo. Photo: Retuning Valiant, via Facebook.

After hearing about Ho’s explosive schemes, Cheung taught Ho how to manufacture TATP, provided the teen with HK$40,000, and promised to help him flee the city, the court heard.

The explosive scheme

After purchasing materials for the explosives, Ho was said to have instructed Au, a school friend, to rent a room at a guesthouse between June and July of that year to make bombs.

Ho, Au and their co-defendant Chan visited court buildings in Tuen Mun and Kwun Tong to inspect their surroundings, according to the case details.

As Ho asked for more help to transfer the explosives, Chan invited his friend Law to take part – offering HK$500 as a reward.

Ho had also asked former neighbour Su how to buy the chemicals needed. While Su had never indicated that she agreed to join Ho’s scheme, she had asked her ex-boyfriend how to purchase those chemicals.

According to Ho’s plan, Chan would be entrusted to plant the explosives inside a recycle bin in the Kwun Tong Law Courts Building. Ho would then arrange a get-away to take Chan to the airport to depart on a flight to the UK.

If Chan failed to activate the bomb remotely, Ho suggested Law would be the one to enter the building and set off the explosion. The court heard that when Chan objected to the proposal, Ho replied: “Doing great things will inevitably involve someone making sacrifices.”

‘Domino effect’

All six defendants were arrested between July 5 and 12 that year.

The police found a list of raw materials needed to make TATP in Ho’s notebooks, as well as the details of his plan.

Ho wrote that his aim was to “destroy the stable structure of Hong Kong, provoke conflicts between the central government and various parties, attempt to trigger a domino effect, and subsequently establish resistance groups.”

Ho also set the deadline for his operation between July 7 and 15 that year, in order to “create chaos and cause the Olympics to be cancelled or delayed.”

Kwun Tong Magistrate's court
Kwun Tong Magistrate’s court. File photo: Wikimedia Commons.

After learning about the defendant’s guilty pleas and the case details, Judge Lee asked for training centre reports for the three youngest defendants.

As for the other three, Lee said he was inclined to sentence them to jail based on the nature of the offence.

The mitigation and sentencing for the six was scheduled for May 25.

In June 2020, Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – bypassing the local legislature – following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure. The move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China. However, the authorities say it has restored stability and peace to the city.

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Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.