HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hundreds crowded a Hong Kong court on Tuesday to hear a landmark verdict in the trial of several leaders of the 2014 pro-democracy “Occupy” civil disobedience movement that called for greater democracy for the Chinese-ruled city.
Three of the defendants accused of playing a leading role in planning and mobilising supporters during the 79-day street occupations in 2014 – Benny Tai, Chan Kin-man, and retired pastor Chu Yiu-ming – face three charges; conspiracy to commit public nuisance, incitement to commit public nuisance, and incitement to incite public nuisance.
The trio has pleaded not guilty to all charges, which each carry a maximum seven years jail.
Tai, speaking to Reuters before the verdict, said: “We will still continue our struggle for democracy … technically we have breached the law and we will have to face legal responsibility.
“The reason that we committed civil disobedience is because we want justice for Hong Kong people.”
There are a total of nine defendants from the 2014 pro-democracy “Occupy” civil disobedience movement.
More than 100 supporters rallied outside the court, holding up yellow umbrellas and placards with the words: “I want universal suffrage”, while others chanted “The Occupy nine are not guilty.”
The protests blocked major roads in the financial centre for 79 days in late 2014, presenting Beijing with one of its biggest challenges in decades. They were finally cleared by police, having won no democratic concessions from the government.
Since the city returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997, however, critics say China has broken this promise and reneged on its commitment to maintain Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and freedoms under a co-called “one country, two systems” arrangement.
All nine defendants were defiant outside the court, vowing to continue their fight for democracy and saying they weren’t afraid of any outcome as they’d been engaged in a peaceful civil disobedience movement pushing for a fundamental right; to vote freely for the city’s leader and lawmakers as promised in the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
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.
David Leung, the director of public prosecutions, had earlier argued that Tai, Chan and Chu were the main conspirators who had begun planning the protests a year in advance. He also said the protests were “unlawful” and had caused “unreasonable” public disruptions over nearly three months.
The trial is the latest in a series against Hong Kong’s democratic opposition that have seen scores of activists jailed.
Reporting by James Pomfret and Jessie Pang; Editing by Michael Perry