Hong Kong's best-known independence activist went on trial on riot charges Wednesday over protests in 2016 which saw the city's worst violence for decades. Edward Leung, 26, the former leader of pro-independence party Hong Kong Indigenous, pleaded guilty last month to assaulting a police officer and has been in custody since then. He could face a maximum of 10 years in jail if found guilty of rioting.
The charges relate to Leung's involvement in Lunar New Year clashes in February 2016, when protesters hurled bricks torn up from pavements and set rubbish alight in the commercial district of Mong Kok.
Police fired warning shots in the air as the unrest worsened, leaving scores of people including officers injured and dozens arrested. The demonstrations were led by so-called "localist" activists, including Leung, seeking more freedom or even outright independence for the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
Fears are growing that Hong Kong's rights and freedoms, as well as its distinct identity, are under threat from China despite an agreement with former colonial power Britain to preserve them. Prosecutor Eric Kwok showed a series of video clips to the jury, arguing that Leung and activist Ray Wong, also of Hong Kong Indigenous, were making "provocative" speeches by loudspeaker to the crowd.
Wong failed to report to police last year and an arrest warrant has been issued, local media reported.
The Mong Kok unrest was triggered by official attempts to remove unlicensed hawkers from the busy neighbourhood. It escalated when police battled localists and other activists defending the vendors.
The localist campaign grew largely out of frustrations at the failure of peaceful mass rallies in 2014 to bring about democratic reforms.
A handful of demonstrators have been jailed so far over the Mong Kok protests, with terms of up to four years and nine months for a man convicted of rioting and arson.
The Chinese government, infuriated by calls for independence or even self-determination, has ramped up the rhetoric against what it sees as challenges to its sovereignty.
Leung and fellow campaigner Andy Chan were barred from standing for seats in the legislature in 2016 because of their pro-independence stance.