Hong Kong ‘Umbrella’ protesters found guilty of public nuisance


Nine pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong have been found guilty of public nuisance charges for their role in a civil disobedience movement that called for free elections in the city.

Among them are three prominent activists, seen as figureheads of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

They could be jailed for up to seven years for their part in the “Umbrella Movement” protests of 2014.

Thousands marched demanding the right for Hong Kong to choose its own leader.

Those convicted include the so-called “Occupy trio” – sociology professor Chan Kin-man, 60, law professor Benny Tai, 54, and Baptist minister Chu Yiu-ming, 75.

They are seen as the founders of the movement that galvanised protesters in their campaign of civil disobedience.

“No matter what happens today… we will persist on and do not give up,” Mr Tai told reporters ahead of the verdict.

It is not yet clear when the group will be sentenced.

What were they found guilty of?

Mr Tai and Mr Chan were both found guilty of two charges of public nuisance.Mr Chu was found guilty of one charge of public nuisance.

Of the other six activists, five were found guilty of two public nuisances charges, with one found guilty of the sole public nuisance charge he faced.

A large crowd gathered outside the court on Thursday to support the nine activists.

A pro-Democracy activist holds a piece of yellow paper with a slogan in Chinese saying "People"s Hero"Image copyrightEPA
Image captionOne pro-democracy supporter outside the court held up a sign saying “People’s Hero”

What has the reaction been?

At the trial Judge Johnny Chan rejected the idea that this would have a substantial impact on society.

“It cannot be reasonably argued that a charge of conspiracy to cause public nuisance would generate a chilling effect in society,” he wrote in his ruling.

But rights groups criticised the ruling, with Humans Rights Watch saying the court was “sending a terrible message”.

“[This] will likely embolden the government to prosecute more peaceful activists, further chilling free expression in Hong Kong,” said researcher Maya Wang in a statement to the BBC.

Lord Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, released a statement saying that it was “appallingly divisive to use anachronistic common law charges in a vengeful pursuit of political events which took place in 2014”.

This verdict comes after a string of frustrations for pro-democracy activists. In the last few years the courts have removed six lawmakers for changing their swearing in oaths to include protest phrases. Others have also been disqualified from running for office.

What were the protests about?

The protests started in reaction to a decision made by China that it would allow direct elections in 2017, but only from a list of candidates pre-approved by Beijing.

Beijing is highly sensitive about Hong Kong’s status and any calls for more autonomy from China.

Chu Yiu-ming, Benny Tai, Chan Kin-manImage copyrightAFP
Image captionChu Yiu-ming, Benny Tai and Chan Kin-man (left to right) were charged under colonial-era laws that carry possible jail terms of up to seven years

The former British colony was handed back in 1997 on condition it would retain “a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs” for 50 years.

Many people in Hong Kong believe they should have the right to elect their own leader.

In 2014, the three activists’ calls for non-violent civil disobedience joined with student-led protests and snowballed into the massive demonstrations.

Tens of thousands of people camped in the streets and demanded the right to fully free leadership elections.

Hong Kong protests (Sept 2014)Image copyrightAFP
Image captionThe pro-democracy protests bought an area of central Hong Kong to a standstill for weeks in 2014

The protests became known as the “Umbrella Movement” after people used umbrellas to shield themselves from tear gas fired by police to disperse the crowd.

Protesters accused the Chinese government of breaking its promise to allow full democracy in Hong Kong, and of encroaching more and more on the region.

But the number of protesters dwindled to just a few hundred as the weeks dragged on and they ultimately failed to achieve their goal.

Source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-47863061

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