For the protesters who stormed the Legislative Council building, including the main chamber on July 1, one man stood out. It was 25-year-old Brian Leung Kei-Ping, who was the only individual to remove his mask and let the media capture his face when he made a passionate appeal to his colleagues.

He explained later: “I took off my face mask because I want to tell you all, Hongkongers are not able to lose anymore. A loss means [the whole civil society] will lose another 10 years….”

Leung has left Hong Kong for the United States, the pro-government outlet Sing Tao Daily reported, adding that the protester booked his flight before the July 1 protest and left the city on a July 2 morning flight to Taipei.

The newspaper quoted an unnamed source as saying that Leung then flew to the United States from Taipei. He was alleged to have prepared the plan beforehand.

Before he left, Leung did an exclusive interview with the South China Morning Post through the Telegram mobile-phone app.

No regret

Leung – a PhD student in political science at the University of Washington, after graduating from the University of Hong Kong with a double degree in law and politics – said he did not regret taking part in the storming of the city parliament.

Leung volunteered to voice the protesters’ key demands inside the chamber – full withdrawal of the now-suspended extradition bill amendment, having the “riot” classification on the June 12 clashes dropped, having criminal charges against all arrested protesters dropped, an investigation into “abusive” police actions and genuine universal suffrage – as he wanted to table the protesters’ demand clearly to the government.

Tension between the government and Hongkongers has intensified over the past month as protesters call for the city’s chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to respond to their demands has failed. Two massive rallies drew millions of citizens on to the streets last month, and four opponents of the bill have died during this turbulent time.

According to videos on social media, Leung, with a handful of protesters who entered the main chamber, stood on a lawmaker’s desk and said: “Someone took risks so we could enter the LegCo building. If we retreat, we will become the ‘rioters’ tomorrow, as TVB will name us.” And pro-government broadcasters would edit video footage to only show what they had destroyed inside the building and condemn them as “rioters”.

‘Point of no return’

He urged the protesters to consider carefully if they want to stay and occupy the chamber, as it would be safer to have more people inside the chamber.

“It is a once in a lifetime chance to occupy the Legislative Council and we are at the point of no return,” Leung said.

He referred to the ‘Sunflower Movement’ in Taiwan in 2014 when Taiwanese students occupied the legislature to protest against a service trade agreement between Taiwan and the mainland Chinese government.

He then explained that the reason he took off his mask: “(I) want to make everyone know, that we Hongkongers, have nothing more to lose. Hong Kong can’t lose anymore.

“If we lose again, it’s 10 years….our civil society would sink to the bottom.”

Meanwhile, pro-Beijing media outlet Ta Kung Pao claimed Leung was a youngster who advocated for Hong Kong to have independence.

Leung was the editor-in-chief of Undergrad, the official magazine of the Hong Kong University Students’ Union in the 2013-14 academic year and one of the editors of a book entitled “Hong Kong Nationalism” published in 2013.

Back in 2015, the former chief executive Leung Chun-ying criticised the university’s student magazine and the book in his third policy address. He slammed students who were advocating for independence, which actually had little traction in society at that time.

Undergrad, the official magazine of the Hong Kong University Students’ Union, left, and a book entitled “Hong Kong Nationalism”. Photo: YouTube