Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters face jail but promise to keep fighting for freedom
The colour yellow was a symbol for pro-democracy protesters, known as the Umbrella Movement. (AP: Kin Cheung)
Hong Kong democracy leaders have pledged to keep fighting for full democracy, as their month-long trial wraps up and they wait for the verdict that could have them jailed for leading and inciting the 2014 protests against what they say are Beijing’s unjust curbs on freedom.
- Nine pro-democracy protesters have been charged and tried
- Critics say that China’s promise to protect Hong Kong’s democracy is being eroded
- Scores of other protesters have already been jailed
Nine defendants face a maximum seven years in jail for each of the charges they were tried on, including conspiracy to commit public nuisance and incitement to commit public nuisance.
All nine pleaded not guilty. A verdict is expected on April 9.
Prosecutors claimed nine defendants instigated the 79-day “Occupy” protests in late 2014, which drew hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets, attempting to press Beijing to grant full democracy to the global financial hub.
“Only through the introduction of genuine universal suffrage could a door be opened to resolving the deep-seated conflicts in Hong Kong,” law professor Benny Tai, 54, who is one of the defendants, told the court.
“The price of freedom is indeed eternal vigilance”
The former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” rule, with the promise of a high degree of autonomy and universal suffrage as an “ultimate aim”.
Riot policemen use pepper spray during clashes with protesters blocking the main street to the financial district of Hong Kong in 2014. (Reuters: Tyrone Siu)
Critics, however, including foreign governments and business groups, say that the guarantee is ringing increasingly hollow, with a democratic reform process now largely stalled.
The trial is the latest in a series against Hong Kong’s pro-democracy opposition that has seen scores of activists jailed.
Promise of freedom being cut down, critics say
Activists say Hong Kong’s freedoms have come under increasing strain, and they point to the recent expulsion of a British journalist and various steps to shut out democrats from city politics.
Hong Kong’s Government says the rule of law is a “core value” and it is trying to heal political and social divides and push political reform.
But it says it will not tolerate any talk of moves towards independence from China.
The prosecution’s case focused on three people: Mr Tai, retired sociologist Chan Kin-man, 59, and retired pastor Chu Yiu-ming, 74.
The prosecution presented video evidence to illustrate what it said was their role in leading, planning, and unlawfully inciting others to obstruct public places during the “Occupy Central” protests. Central is Hong Kong’s business district.
The three defended the civil disobedience movement as a constitutionally protected right to push for social justice, at times citing the example of US civil rights leader, Martin Luther King.
“I was inspired very much by Dr King, and this is the same spirit we have implanted … we strive to inspire self-sacrificing love and peacefulness but not to incite anger and hatred,” Mr Tai said.
Lawyers for the three argued that the actual “Occupy” movement ended up taking place in other locations, not the business district as initially planned, and it was a spontaneous movement, partly spearheaded by students and inflamed when police fired tear gas into the crowd.
Six others, including lawmakers Tanya Chan and Shiu Ka-chun, two former student leaders Eason Chung and Tommy Cheung, activist Raphael Wong and veteran democrat Lee Wing-tat, also face various public nuisance charges.
“If we still don’t have the right to vote, it’s a dead end for Hong Kong,” Ms Chan said.
“I’m very sure that it’s the duty of every citizen to protect freedom and also the duty for every citizen to fight for democracy. It is the only way.”