Hong Kong’s High Court has jailed a former member of a now-dissolved pro-independence group for 12 years for a bomb plot in the heaviest sentence to date over charges stemming from the anti-government protests and civil unrest of 2019.
In sentencing Louis Lo Yat-sun on Friday, Mr Justice Andrew Chan Hing-wai said the 29-year-old defendant “came close to declaring war” on society by creating “terror among citizens” with his involvement in Hong Kong’s largest seizure of high explosives in two decades.
The judge compared Lo’s crime to that committed by the late Yip Kai-foon, the notorious gangster who was jailed for 18 years in 1997 for possession of nearly 2kg of trinitrotoluene, or TNT.
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Lo had pleaded guilty earlier to one count of keeping explosives with intent to endanger life or property, after police seized 1kg of triacetone triperoxide, also known as TATP, in an industrial building in July 2019.
He appeared calm upon hearing the sentence, and waved goodbye to his family and friends in the courtroom before being taken away by prison officers.
Despite a lack of evidence linking Lo to the civil unrest, the judge ruled that the defendant had intended to use the explosives to subvert the government and push for the city’s independence, given the propaganda materials found in the industrial unit and his home, as well as two manuals on explosives on his mobile phone.
“The defendant’s action, in my view, came close to declaring war [on] the society,” the judge said. “The defendant in this case was going after the [Hong Kong] government, the stability of the region, with the intention of creating fear and terror among citizens within the society.”
Lo, a former human resources manager at a logistics company, was a member of the Hong Kong National Front (HKNF) until the group was disbanded in June 2020, just ahead of the promulgation of the Beijing-imposed national security law.
He was the first defendant to plead guilty to charges arising from the 2019 unrest at the High Court, where no sentencing cap applies. His offence is punishable by 20 years’ imprisonment under the Crimes Ordinance.
The prosecution said Lo had stored the TATP in multiple batches in a rented studio in the Lung Shing Factory Building. Police found the explosives during a raid on July 19, 2019.
Officers also discovered 10 petrol bombs, materials used to promote Hong Kong independence, and large amounts of weapons and equipment used by protesters, including helmets, masks and body shields.
While Lo had admitted to possessing, not producing, the TATP, Judge Chan said the defendant was still as culpable as the one who had manufactured the high explosives. The judge concluded that Lo must have been the mastermind, given the frequency of his visits to the industrial studio and propaganda materials found there and at his home.
Comparing Lo’s case with that of the late gangster Yip, Chan said the court was obliged to impose a heavy penalty.
“Mr Yip Kai-foon, together with his gang, [was] more likely than not going after money ... [The defendant’s] criminality is just as serious, if not more, as Mr Yip,” the judge said. “This court would be failing its duty to the public if it does not impose a heavy, deterrent sentence [in cases] such as this.”
Chan took Yip’s jail term as the starting point for Lo’s sentence, but granted a six-year remission for the defendant’s guilty plea.
Yip, from Shanwei, Guangdong province, rose to notoriety for holding up jewellery stores in Hong Kong in the 1980s with a Kalashnikov. He was jailed for 18 years in 1985, but escaped four years later at Queen Mary Hospital.
He was recaptured after a shoot-out with police in 1996 and ordered to serve 41 years for a string of charges, including possessing and using firearms, kidnapping and his escape.
He later won an appeal and had his sentence reduced to just over 36 years, but died at the age of 55 at Queen Mary in April, 2017, while still serving time.
While police had earlier suggested links between the seized TATP and an anti-government march on July 21, 2019, prosecutors were unable to ascertain Lo’s motive, as he refused to say exactly how he had planned to use the powerful explosives.
After initially accusing Lo of producing the explosives, prosecutors agreed to amend the charge to one of keeping explosives, given his guilty plea.
Acting superintendent Lui Sze-ho, of the organised crime and triad bureau, praised the court’s ruling and said police would endeavour to make Hong Kong “the world’s safest city”.
Police have investigated 17 cases involving the possession or production of explosives during the 2019 turmoil. Three cases have been slated for trial at the High Court.
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