Several politicians, lawyers and academics from the UK and US have presented letters of mitigation to the High Court in support of localist Edward Leung after he was convicted of rioting last week over his involvement in the 2016 Mong Kok clashes with police.
The court was presented on Monday with letters from foreign figures such as House of Lords member David Alton, Queen’s Counsel Geoffrey Nice, Harvard University law professor Lawerence Lessig, and University of Surrey international politics scholar Malte Philipp Kaeding.
All of those who sent letters of mitigation to the court described Leung as “generous, kind and passionate,” InMedia reported. Scholars with whom Leung became acquainted while visiting the UK and US spoke highly of the activist in terms of his character and intellectual level.
Leung pleaded guilty earlier to assaulting a police officer, but he and four others denied rioting and other charges.
After more than 50 days of hearing, a nine-person jury last Friday unanimously found Leung guilty of one count of rioting but acquitted him of inciting a riot.
The only other guilty verdict the jurors returned was a rioting charge against co-accused Lo Kin-man. They either cleared or could not reach a majority verdict for the rest of the charges.
On Monday, the court heard that a letter from senior counsel and former lawmaker Margaret Ng described Leung as someone with rare potential who wanted to find a way out for Hong Kong. “He will definitely not give up on Hong Kong,” Ng said.
Barrister Edwin Choy, who represents Leung, said 11 mitigation letters described Leung as someone with a sense of responsibility. He said that Leung did not run away from his duties as a “young citizen” in the face of democratic regression.
Choy blamed his generation for being “self-indulgent” and failing to fight for democratic ideals. He said the current situation was partly created by the older generations – such as high-ranking officials – who “evaded their responsibilities” but accuse Hong Kong youth of being troublemakers.
Judge Anthea Pang interrupted Choy, asking him if he intended to legitimise violence by giving such context. Choy denied attempting to do so.
The barrister also said that Leung’s actions during the unrest was not premeditated. However, Judge Pang said the lack of premeditation is not a mitigation factor but only useful for ruling out the relevant aggravating factor.
Cardinal Joseph Zen and former lawmaker Cyd Ho also expressed their support for Leung to the court.
Last Friday, Judge Pang banned members of the public from entering the courtroom after the judiciary received an email from an unidentified person with a photo showing the faces of four jurors in the trial.
She lifted the ban on Monday, as the jury had been dismissed. Leung’s family members and two former co-accused were among those who attended the mitigation hearing.
A sixth defendant Wong Ka-kui pleaded guilty earlier to rioting, while activists Ray Wong and Alan Li of Hong Kong Indigenous remain at large after they absconded last year. The prosecution alleged that Wong took a leadership role in the unrest with Leung.
Judge Pang will hand down a sentence at a later date.