Hong Kong activist Edward Leung, who coined the now-banned slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our Times”, was released from prison early on Wednesday morning after spending four years behind bars over a protest in 2016.
Leung was a prominent independence activist and the spokesperson for Hong Kong Indigenous, a pro-independence group in the city that was outspoken about “localism” and the need to preserve a distinct Hong Kong identity.
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The 30-year-old activist was convicted of assaulting a police officer and rioting during what is now known as the Fishball Revolution in 2018, and was kept in a maximum-security prison.
The unrest began when authorities attempted to crack down on unlicensed hawkers selling street food during the 2016 Lunar New Year holidays in Mong Kok amid concerns the action was an attack on local traditions.
Initially sentenced to six years in jail, Leung had his sentence reduced by two years for good behaviour, according to Hong Kong media reports.
Edward Leung, a former leader of pro-independence group Hong Kong Indigenous is set to be released early on Wednesday morning, after spending four years in prison. pic.twitter.com/zRrDSdw2q7
— Hong Kong Free Press HKFP (@hkfp) January 18, 2022
Leung’s release comes during a crackdown on political dissent in Hong Kong, with authorities arresting dozens of Hong Kong’s leading pro-democracy activists since the imposition of a sweeping national security law in June 2020. Others have gone into exile overseas.
Fellow group members Ray Wong and Alan Li were also charged with rioting in the 2016 protest. The pair later skipped bail and were granted asylum in Germany in May 2018.
In a statement posted on his Facebook page on Wednesday morning, Leung said that he had been released from prison and is back with his family.
“As required by law, I am subject to a supervision order upon release,” he wrote in the post, adding that he would stop using social media and will not be taking any media interviews or visits.
“After four years, I want to cherish this precious time to reunite with my family and resume a normal life with them,” Leung said, before thanking his supporters for their concern and love.
A day before his release on Tuesday, Leung’s family urged supporters to let Leung “reunite with his family” and urged supporters to prioritise their own safety.
The post also stated that, following legal advice, Leung’s Facebook page would be taken down and the content would be removed on Tuesday to protect him.
Leung is known for coining the slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our Times” for his election campaign, when he attempted to run for a seat in the legislature in 2016. He was later disqualified but still received more than 66,000 votes on the ballot.
The phrase became a popular slogan during the 2019 mass protests, but authorities have since banned it, claiming it has secessionist connotations that are illegal under the national security law. The law outlaws secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign collusion to intervene in the city’s affairs.
Leung advocated so-called forceful resistance in his campaigning, which drew opposition from the city’s more traditional pro-democracy politicians, but also captured the attention of young voters, and many of his ideas, such as “leaderless” protests, were later employed during the months of anti-government protests in 2019.
Born in the mainland Chinese city of Wuhan in 1991, Leung is recognised as one of the early faces of Hong Kong’s pro-independence movement.