Nine Hong Kong pro-democracy ‘Umbrella’ protest leaders found guilty in landmark trial

The trial has been seen by critics as indicative of more authoritarian rule by China

Adam Withnall
Asia Editor
Tuesday 09 April 2019 06:37 BST
Protesters observe a moment of silence to mark the first anniversary of the ‘Umbrella Movement’ outside the government HQ in Hong Kong
Protesters observe a moment of silence to mark the first anniversary of the ‘Umbrella Movement’ outside the government HQ in Hong Kong (AP)

Nine leaders of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy “Umbrella Movement” have been found guilty of charges including conspiracy to commit public nuisance.

The defendants face the prospect of years in prison, although the judge did not immediately hand down sentences in the landmark case which relates to a 2014 campaign of civil disobedience that received international attention.

Scores of supporters turned out to cheer the defendants, who included a law professor, two politicians and former student activists.

The trial has been seen by critics as indicative of a move towards more authoritarian rule by China in Hong Kong, where political freedoms and the right to dissenting voices have shrunk in recent years.

Three of the defendants accused of playing a leading role in planning and mobilising supporters during the 79-day street occupations in 2014 were found guilty of conspiracy to commit public nuisance. They were Benny Tai, 54; Chan Kin-man, 60; and retired pastor Chu Yiu-ming, 75.

Tai and Kin-man were also found guilty of incitement to commit public nuisance. They appeared calm after the verdict was delivered, and Kin-man bowed to supporters, applauding them outside court. The trio had pleaded not guilty to all charges, which each carry a maximum seven years jail.

The six other defendants include pro-democracy legislators Tanya Chan and Shiu Ka-chun, two former student leaders Eason Chung and Tommy Cheung, activist Raphael Wong and veteran democrat Lee Wing-tat. All were found guilty of at least one public nuisance charge.

Tai said they would continue the struggle for full democracy.

“The reason that we committed civil disobedience is because we want justice for Hong Kong people.”

In a summary of his judgement, Justice Johnny Chan noted that while the concept of civil disobedience is “recognised in Hong Kong”, it wasn’t a defence to a criminal charge.

“The offence of conspiracy to cause a public nuisance does not have the undesirable effect of curtailing or suppressing civil disobedience at its formation stage or suppressing human rights as the defendants contended,” the summary read.

Since the city returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997, critics say China has reneged on its commitment to maintain Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and freedoms under a “one country, two systems” arrangement.

In the nearly five years since the Occupy protests, democracy activists, diplomats and business leaders have expressed grave concerns about what they say is Beijing’s tightening grip on the city’s freedoms.

Pro-democracy lawmakers have been kicked out of the legislature, a pro-independence party banned, and democracy advocates barred from contesting local elections. A senior Financial Times editor was also effectively expelled from the city after he hosted a talk with a pro-independence activist at the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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