HONG KONG (AP) — A court in Hong Kong is preparing Wednesday to sentence nine leaders of massive 2014 pro-democracy protests after they were convicted last month of public nuisance offenses.
The sentences are seen as an effort by the government of the semi-autonomous Chinese territory to draw a line under the protests. The charges carry potential sentences of up to seven years.
“I am still peaceful and hopeful to face whatever may happen today,” law professor Benny Tai, who helped originate the protests, told reporters on arriving at the court.
Another of those convicted, Tanya Chan, said she hadn’t lost faith in what the movement stood for.
“Although it’s an uphill battle, it’s not easy, it’s time for us to make sure that we are strong enough to face different kind of challenges,” Chan said.
The nine were leaders of the “Occupy Central” campaign, which was organized as a nonviolent sit-in that became known as the “Umbrella Movement” after a symbol of defiance against police adopted by the street protests.
Protesters demanded the right to freely nominate candidates for Hong Kong’s leader who would then be elected by all of the territory’s roughly 5 million voters.
However, they failed to win any concessions from the government and Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam was chosen in 2017 from among a slate of candidates approved by Beijing and elected by a 1,200- member pro-China electoral body.
Ranging in age from their 30s to 70s, the nine defendants span generations of Hong Kong citizens who have been agitating for full democracy. The defendants had all pleaded not guilty, calling the prosecutions politically motivated.
Hong Kong, a former British colony, was handed over to Chinese rule in 1997 under an agreement in which China promised the city could retain its own laws, economic system and civil rights for 50 years.
However, Chinese President and Communist Party leader Xi Jinping has been seen as extending his crackdown on civil liberties to Hong Kong, drawing criticism from commercial and legal associations as well as political, human rights and media groups.
“In the verdict, the judge commented we are naive, believing that by having a occupy movement we can attain democracy. But what is more naive than believing in one country two systems?’ protest leader Chan Kin-man said.
In Taiwan, youthful supporters rallied to denounce the convictions and growing pressure from Beijing on both their self-ruled island and Hong Kong.
China has demanded Taiwan agree to its claim to the island as Chinese territory, to be annexed by force if necessary, and accept a “one country, two systems,” framework for governing along the lines of that in place in Hong Kong.
“Occupy Central is not a crime,” they chanted, as well as the “The Hong Kong government is unjustified.”