Occupy leaders make first Hong Kong court appearance flanked by 100 supporters with yellow umbrellas
The nine face a range of public nuisance charges, and are released on bail with the case adjourned to May 25
Nine leaders and key protesters of the 2014 Occupy movement charged for their roles in the 79-day demonstration made their first court appearance on Thursday morning, flanked by more than 100 supporters holding yellow umbrellas and banners reminiscent of the sit-in.
The nine – comprising mostly scholars, lawmakers, and former student leaders – heard a variation of public nuisance charges at Eastern Court.
Among them, three Occupy Central founders – academics Benny Tai Yiu-ting and Dr Chan Kin-man, and the Reverend Chu Yiu-ming – each face three charges: conspiracy to cause public nuisance, inciting others to cause public nuisance, and inciting people to incite others to cause public nuisance.
Lawmakers Tanya Chan and Shiu Ka-chun as well as former student leaders Tommy Cheung Sau-yin and Eason Chung Yiu-wah each face the two incitement charges, as does League of Social Democrats vice-chairman Raphael Wong Ho-ming.
Former lawmaker Lee Wing-tat faces one charge of inciting others to cause public nuisance.
Each charge carries a maximum sentence of seven years in jail.
Prosecutors alleged that the founding trio conspired with other persons to cause a nuisance to the public through the unlawful obstruction of public places and roads within or around Central.
They further accused the three and other defendants – with the exception of Wong and Lee – of unlawfully inciting crowds present at Tim Mei Avenue in Admiralty to cause a nuisance to the public by unlawfully obstructing public places and roads, as well as inciting others to incite people to do the same.
Meanwhile, Wong was similarly accused of both incitement charges, but with the site of the alleged offence at Fenwick Pier Street in Admiralty.
Lee was accused of having incited others present at Harcourt Road and Tim Mei Avenue to cause a nuisance to the public by unlawfully obstructing the carriageway of Harcourt Road.
The period of the alleged offences spanned from March 2013 to the time when some participants turned themselves in to police on December 3, 2014 for the charge of conspiracy to commit public nuisance.
The incitement charges covered the period in 2014 from September 27 to 28, the day when the 79-day movement officially began.
In court, the nine replied: “We understand”, when asked to acknowledged the charges they faced.
None were required to enter a plea.
Deputy director of public prosecutions David Leung Cheuk-yin SC said they needed six weeks to prepare transfer papers and bundles to move the case to the higher District Court, which can impose longer sentences of up to seven years.
But Martin Lee Chu-ming SC, representing five of the defendants, indicated that they might ask for the trial to be heard at the Court of First Instance in High Court.
“My clients would like their case to be tried at the High Court where there is a jury,” he said. “After all this is a case of public interest.”
Principal Magistrate Bina Chainrai replied that prosecutors would decide on this matter.
She adjourned the case to May 25 after the defence for the founding trio requested an additional two weeks.
All nine were released on bail and reminded to adhere to their existing bail conditions.
They were legally represented at the brief hearing by barristers Nisha Mohamed, Emma Tsang, Kim McCoy, Wong Ching-yue SC, Martin Lee SC and Joe Chan.
Among the supporters were lawmakers “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, Lau Siu-lai, Leung Yiu-chung, Ted Hui Chi-fung, and Raymond Chan Chi-chuen, along with activist Tsang Kin-shing.
They shouted words of encouragement to the nine, while also chanting: “Umbrella movement! I demand genuine universal suffrage!”
The burst of yellow stood in contrast with the blue caps worn and banners held by dozens of counter protesters from the Defend Hong Kong Campaign. The group supports police enforcement.
A few including campaign chairman Fu Chun-chung prepared plastic and wooden slippers and slapped portraits of the nine, while shouting: “Punish the mob, return the rule of law”.
Barricades separated the two groups of protesters while about 60 uniformed and plain-clothes officers stood guard.
Outside court, Benny Tai said they would not comment on the case since it has entered legal proceedings.
But he told the supporting crowd: “All of us, particularly us three, are very grateful to those who are here to support us.”
The trio is expected to enlist Gerard McCoy SC to their legal team.
Occupy co-founder Chan Kin-man said they would need more time for preparations as they have received only very brief facts on the case so far.