The West Kowloon District Court on Wednesday jailed four of the nine leaders of the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy protests amid growing concerns over the decline of freedoms in Hong Kong.
After a near month-long trial, law professor Benny Tai Yiu-ting, 54, and retired sociologist Chan Kin-man, 60, were each jailed for 16 months for conspiracy to commit public nuisance tied to the civil disobedience movement, while the same prison term for Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, 75, was suspended for two years as the judge took into account his advanced age and years of public service, Reuters reports.
Tai and Chan Kin-man were also sentenced to another eight months, to be served concurrently, on a charge of inciting others to cause a public nuisance, public broadcaster RTHK said.
“Whatever will be the decision of the court I will just face it peacefully,” Tai told supporters ahead of his sentencing.
The sentencing of Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan, 47, was postponed to June 10 after she informed the court that she would soon undergo surgery over a serious brain condition.
Legislator Shiu Ka-chun and League of Social Democrats activist Raphael Wong Ho-ming were given eight months behind bars.
Former lawmaker and Democratic Party chairman Lee Wing-tat as well as former student leaders Eason Chung Yiu-wa and Tommy Cheung Sau-yin were spared prison terms. Cheung received 200 hours of community service.
Several hundred supporters, many wearing yellow bands and holding bright yellow umbrellas, had gathered outside the West Kowloon Law Courts.
Once the sentences were announced, some sobbed, while others chanted: “I wasn’t incited by the Occupy leaders.”
The public nuisance trial is considered the most significant legal maneuver by authorities to punish those involved in the massive protests that paralyzed large portions of the city for 79 days.
They were fighting for “genuine universal suffrage”, which meant being able to directly elect Hong Kong’s leader without Beijing or its representatives vetting the candidates.
The demonstrations were the largest and most protracted mass movement in recent decades in the global financial hub, and one of the boldest populist challenges to China’s leaders since the pro-democracy protests in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989.
All nine had pleaded not guilty and argued the “Umbrella Movement” was intended as peaceful, non-violent civil disobedience, serving no motive other than to benefit society and make positive democratic progress.
A court found them guilty of public nuisance charges on April 9, with the judge ruling that, while civil disobedience is allowed in Hong Kong, it couldn’t excuse an illegal act.
Prior to the sentencing, rival political groups outside the court had taunted each other, with pro-democracy activists calling for Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to step down, while Beijing loyalists chanting: “Go away. Go occupy London.”
Ahead of the court’s ruling, the Occupy leaders urged supporters to take to the streets on Sunday to protest against proposed extradition laws that would allow people to be sent from Hong Kong to mainland China for trial.
Critics fear the laws, which are expected to be passed later this year, could further erode the city’s legal protections.
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