Hong Kong independence activist Leung released from prison

AP file photo
Supporters hold a banner with a picture of Hong Kong activist Edward Leung as they shout slogans outside the High Court in Hong Kong, on Oct. 9, 2019.

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong activist Edward Leung, who coined the now-banned slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our Times,” was released from prison Wednesday after spending four years behind bars for a 2016 protest.

Leung was a prominent independence activist and the spokesman of 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.

In 2018, the 30-year-old activist was convicted of assaulting a police officer and rioting during what is now known as the Fishball Revolution. 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, but clashed with protesters who opposed their actions as an attack on local traditions.

Initially sentenced to six years of imprisonment, Leung had his sentence reduced by two years for good behavior, according to local media reports.

Leung’s release comes during a crackdown on political dissent in Hong Kong, with authorities arresting a majority of Hong Kong’s outspoken pro-democracy activists over the past two years. Many of the city’s prominent activists are currently behind bars or have fled overseas to continue their activism.

AP file photo
Hong Kong jailed activist Edward Leung, right, is escorted by Correctional Services officers in a prison van as he arrives at high court for his sentence appeal in Hong Kong on Oct. 9, 2019.

In a statement posted on his Facebook page early 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.

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.

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Supporters surround a police bus carrying political activist Edward Leung as it leaves the High Court, after Leung sentenced to six years in prison for his part in a violent nightlong clash with police on Oct. 9, 2019, in Hong Kong.

The phrase later became a popular protest slogan during the 2019 protests, but authorities have since banned the slogan, stating that it has secessionist connotations that are illegal under the national security law that was implemented in 2020. The law outlaws secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign collusion to intervene in the city’s affairs.

Leung advocated so-called forceful resistance against political violence in his campaigns, which was considered a polarizing opinion and drew opposition from the city’s more traditional pro-democracy camp.

However, his stance of a more active form of resistance also drew 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.

AP file photo
Edward Leung, center, a candidate of Hong Kong Indigenous, waves to supporters at an election rally on Feb. 28, 2016, in Hong Kong.

In a post on Leung’s Facebook page Tuesday — a day before his release — Leung’s family urged supporters to let Leung “reunite with his family” and urged supporters to prioritize 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 Jan. 19 to protect him.