Hong Kong independence activist Edward Leung, who coined the slogan for the 2019 Great Democracy Movement, was released from prison on Wednesday after nearly four years in detention.
“The prison services department arranged the release of the prisoner concerned from Shek Pik prison in the early morning” on Wednesday, the department said in an email.
Edward Leung, 30, was a rising star on the political scene when the independence movement began to gain momentum in 2016.
But his rise came to a screeching halt in 2018, when he was jailed for rioting and assaulting police during a 2016 demonstration in which protesters threw bricks and burned tires in the streets.
Mr. Leung was locked up in a high-security prison. Meanwhile, his campaign slogan — “Free Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Time” — rose to prominence when pro-democracy protesters picked it up in 2019 as a rallying cry against China’s authoritarian rule.
The slogan, ubiquitous during the huge, sometimes violent, pro-democracy rallies that have rocked the city, was banned in 2021 under a national security law that Beijing imposed on Hong Kong to suppress opposition.
Mr Leung, who was due out during the day on Wednesday, was finally released at dawn while it was still dark, to “consider the wish and safety” of the activist, the prison services department told the AFP.
His family had called on Tuesday not to come to the prison for his release.
– “Away from the spotlight” –
According to local media, he left the prison before 3 a.m. (1900 GMT Tuesday). Metal barriers had been installed on the main road leading to the prison, to prevent journalists from approaching.
On Wednesday around 5:45 a.m. (9:45 p.m. GMT Tuesday), Mr. Leung said on social networks that he had found his relatives. “After four years, I want to enjoy this precious time I have with my family and return to a normal life. I would like to express my sincere gratitude for your attention,” he wrote.
He added that he wanted to “stay away from the spotlight and stop using social media”, being legally obliged to do so because he remains under surveillance.
At 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, his Facebook page appeared to have been deactivated.
A few weeks ago, government sources told local media that the activist was “probably going to be watched”, the authorities being aware of his influence on the independence camp, which is now very weakened.
Born in 1991 in Wuhan, central China, Mr. Leung was one of the first to raise his voice to demand the independence of Hong Kong, a former British colony returned to China in 1997.
After irritating more than one classic pro-democracy activist, his ideas have become more popular, especially among young people in the semi-autonomous territory, after the failure of the Occupy movement in 2014, when the police evacuated protesters by road. force after 79 days of a sit-in without violence.
The philosophy and political science student then joined the independence movement Hong Kong Indigenous, of which he became the spokesperson.
He was the first independence candidate to stand in the legislative elections, in 2016. He failed but collected more than 66,000 votes, a score that seemed to show growing support for a previously marginal movement.
Mr. Leung remained silent for most of his detention, except in July 2019 when, after violence, he wrote a letter asking protesters not to be blinded by hatred.
Today, under the national security law that came into force in 2020, calling for Hong Kong independence is punishable by prison, between ten years and life.