Hong Kong activist Owen Chow has pleaded guilty to rioting on July 1, 2019, when the city’s legislature was stormed by hundreds of protesters during the early days of the anti-extradition bill unrest.

Owen Chow
Hong Kong activist Owen Chow. Photo: Owen Chow, via Facebook.

The 26-year-old, who is among 47 pro-democracy figures involved in a high-profile national security trial , entered his guilty plea for a the rioting charge at District Court on Wednesday, local media reported.

He was said to have taken part in a riot at the Legislative Council (LegCo) on the anniversary of the city’s Handover from Britain to China four years ago. That day, the building next to the government headquarters in Admiralty was broken into by demonstrators protesting against the since-axed extradition bill.

Hundreds of protesters stormed the city’s legislature by smashing glass doors with steel rods and ramming other objects into the entrances of the complex. Then-lawmakers from the pro-democracy camp, including Leung Yiu-chung, Ted Hui, Fernando Cheung and Lam Cheuk-ting, attempted to negotiate with the protesters but to no avail.

As police withdrew, the demonstrators entered the building and vandalised it by spray painting slogans on the walls and on portraits of the legislature’s presidents, while others defaced the city’s emblem and tore up a copy of the its mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

july 1 legco storming china extradition (7)
Hundreds of protesters storm the Legislative Council on July 1, 2019. Photo: Thammakhun John Crowcroft/HKFP.

According to local media, police took three copies of the Basic Law from the LegCo chamber as evidence and later found Chow’s fingerprints on them. The activist was said to have ripped copies of the city’s mini-constitution apart with at least one other protester.

The government spent around HK$36 million to repair the damage, local media reported on Wednesday citing case details read out in court.

The storming of the LegCo involved 13 other defendants, including actor Gregory Wong, former University of Hong Kong student leader Althea Suen and activist Ventus Lau, who has also been charged under the Beijing-imposed security law.

Chow will make his mitigation plea on February 1 next year.

Chow was arrested for rioting at the legislature in early February 2021 when he reported to a police station to extend his police bail for the conspiracy to commit subversion case involving 47 democrats. His bail was revoked later that month when he was officially charged under the national security law.

legco storming Monday July 1
Protesters smashing portrait of Legislative Council President Andrew Leung on July 1, 2019. Photo: May James.

The activist was granted bail in June 2021 after spending four months in custody pending his subversion trial linked an unofficial legislative primary election held by the democratic camp ahead of the 2020 Legislative Council election, which was later postponed for more than a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

But his bail was revoked in January last year after he was said to have breached his bail terms. He has been detained since then and is waiting for the landmark trial to resume next month for closing arguments.

Protests erupted in June 2019 over a since-axed extradition bill. They escalated into sometimes violent displays of dissent against police behaviour, amid calls for democracy and anger over Beijing’s encroachment. Demonstrators demanded an independent probe into police conduct, amnesty for those arrested and a halt to the characterisation of protests as “riots.” 

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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.