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Interview: What happened, and what’s next, for ousted Hong Kong lawmaker Baggio Leung

Strewn with papers, folders and campaign materials, Youngspiration’s chaotic office in Lai Chi Kok could well be a metaphor for the embattled party.

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Baggio Leung. Photo: Eric Cheung/HKFP.

Baggio Leung Chun-hang’s troubles all started with the word “Chee-na.” Depending on how it is said, it can be perceived as a derogatory term for China. Leung and party colleague Yau Wai-ching used the word during their October swearing-in session in protest of having to pledge allegiance to Beijing. The government lodged a legal challenge against them, but they lost at both the Court of First Instance on November 15 and the Court of Appeal on a fortnight later.

But Leung did not forsee the trouble that would be unleashed. He recalled joining the pro-democracy Occupy protests in 2014, but it achieved little politically. He told HKFP that forming the Youngspiration party in 2015 was to avenge what he felt was defeat.

“We used the District Council election as a platform to talk about what we wanted to say… our slogan was Hongkongers let’s win this together,” he said. “Our nation needed to feel a win.”

Youngspiration fielded nine candidates and just one of them won, beating a pro-Beijing veteran.

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Baggio Leung (second from right) and Edward Leung (middle). Photo: Baggio Leung.

‘I wouldn’t have ran if I knew’

That was meant to be the end. Helping localist candidate Edward Leung Tin-kei in the February by-election, and joining – and eventually winning – two seats in the September election, were unplanned spontaneous events.

Leung said his oath-taking stunt was only an extension of what other lawmakers had done before them.

“Our messages may be different, the nature is the same – to express a political message to your audience through this ceremony,” he said.

“If you ask me whether I regret it – if you told me that this would be the result, I would move my moment of regret a little earlier, I would not have even joined the election.”

Leung was selected as a “substitute candidate” in the September election for Edward Leung, who faced rioting charges and was barred from even joining the race. Baggio Leung was initially contesting a LegCo seat to provide resources to help Edward Leung. He only ran as a top-listed candidate at the end of July.

“If they told me at the time this would be the result – election results can be easily overruled – I wouldn’t have run,” he said. “Because [now] I don’t understand what the month’s work was for; I don’t understand what people helping me that month were working for; I don’t understand what the votes were for. We thought [the election] was a sacred thing, but the result was not as sacred as we thought.”

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Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching. File photo: HKFP

But Youngspiration announced this week they will lodge an appeal to the highest court. “It’s either fight or leave. There’s no third way,” he said.

See also: Interview: Lawmaker Yau Wai-ching has no regrets, but hopes to escape oath row and work for Hongkongers

The key problem with Hong Kong is its relationship with Beijing, said Leung.

“If we do not have a solution to this relationship, we cannot get democracy – I also don’t see a possibility of maintaining freedom and the rule of law. When these are all gone, is Hong Kong still Hong Kong? By that time, the flag I will be raising will not be ‘Hong Kong is not China’, but ‘Hong Kong is not Hong Kong’.”

Street protests 

Leung said street protests and social movements should be part of the campaign to protect freedoms in the city.

“Planned street protests and social movements in Hong Kong, as far as I know, have never succeeded. Those which were not planned usually exploded owing to certain events,” he said. “If you have a plan, do not talk about a solid plan but try to spread concepts to do some foundation work… say Occupy Central, it never occupied Central, but the concept of occupy reached people to make Umbrella Revolution happen.”

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Baggio Leung at the protest on night of November 6, 2016. Photo: HKFP.

An example was the chaotic demonstration on November 6 at the China Liaison Office protesting the imminent Beijing intervention to bar Leung from winning the court case.

“Wherever I move maybe there were 20 police officers and 20 cameras following me – if I took a brick at the time it was going to be hell for me.”

“Maybe my role is a distraction: If the plan is to go East, I’ll go West,” he said.

Leung said his phone was tapped and his social media accounts hacked. “If you have a proposal for revolution, please don’t send it to me,” he said.

Baggio Leung Yau Wai-ching protest

Photo: HKFP.

Future plans

Recently, Edward Leung said he chose to remain silent on the oath-taking incident as he may face immediate imprisonment if he was arrested again at a protest.

Baggio Leung said he and Edward Leung were not “stupid and crazy.”

“We know what we can do and what we cannot do,” he said. “Even if Edward Leung showed up in person, how much can he do?”

“Secondly, should Hong Kong people put the burden on one person – he is facing one prosecution, can he face unlimited burden? I don’t think it should be like this,” he added.

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Baggio Leung reading a letter from the Legislative Council demanding him pay back HK$610 in social activities expenses. Photo: Eric Cheung/HKFP.

Leung said his group Youngspiration and Edward Leung’s Hong Kong Indigenous are effectively barred from the establishment forever.

“There’s returning officers and the LegCo secretary-general – two gates to bar us, or even one more Basic Law interpretation – but it does not mean we can’t do anything,” he said.

Youngspiration was interested in new measures to protect activists, he said, including looking into Taiwan’s migration laws and pushing forward the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of the US.

“We want to provide basic protection for those who ended up with a criminal record owing to political incidents,” he said. “[To foreign countries] we are the example – they recognise us.”

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One of the few times Baggio Leung was able to speak in the chamber of the Legislative Council. Photo: Stanley Leung/HKFP.

The Legislative Council has ordered Leung and Yau to pay back HK$1.86 million in salaries and subsidies by next week. Their battle at Hong Kong’s highest court, meanwhile, requires a HK$1.6 million deposit.

Though his situation is not ideal, Leung is taking it in stride.

“I thought they said the oath controversy would lead to CY Leung’s re-election? Now we’re bankrupt and he won’t even be running,” he joked.

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A donation sent to Youngspiration’s office. Photo: Eric Cheung/HKFP.

Being spied on?

Another part of his life, according to Leung, has been the two groups of people regularly following him.

He called one group “The Masked Party,” and another group of people were South Asians. Leung said he learned how to escape from being followed, the advantage he possess was that his estate, South Horizons, has many exits.

He suspected the masked people were those who followed Edward Leung, who have now transferred to tracking him since Edward was out of the city. He confronted one South Asian man who was taking phone photos of him but – in perfect Cantonese – the man said: “why would I be taking photos of you?”

“The reason why I appeared publicly less and less was because I had to think of ways to ditch the people who followed me around every time,” he said. “Every time I went to the High Court… when it finished, I had to walk around Pacific Place [mall near the court] until I lose the followers.”

He said he would report to police a death threat letter sent to him with a blade attached, but he did not expect the authorities to find the sender.

The letter said he must die and he should ask his parents to cook him something good.

baggio leung razor blade threat

Photo: Lynn Lee via Facebook.

Leung’s father passed away when he was very young. He joked that his mother did not read pro-Beijing newspapers and was not aware of attacks against him.

When Leung lost the appeal last month, he said his mother was waiting for him at home. She handed him a bowl of soup, chatted with him for a while and then went to sleep.

“Mama is very good to me, she tries to not bother me, she is the best support,” he said.

And Leung said it is not just her support that helped him through this tumultuous period. He hopes to end the year paying back his debt to journalists and international media by speaking to them as much as possible, and – as he puts it – putting Hong Kong back on the radar.

2017 funding drive

HKFP Writer

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.

Interview: What happened, and what's next, for ousted Hong Kong lawmaker Baggio Leung