Further legal action against more than 700 Occupy protesters not ruled out by Hong Kong’s new chief prosecutor
Director of Public Prosecutions David Leung Cheuk-yin says investigations are still under way
Hong Kong’s new chief prosecutor has declined to rule out further legal action against those involved in the city’s Occupy pro-democracy protests three years ago, disclosing at a court hearing on Tuesday that investigations were still under way.
The prospect of a fresh round of prosecutions emerged at a pretrial review of the cases against the three founders of the 2014 civil disobedience movement – Benny Tai Yiu-ting, Dr Chan Kin-man, and the Reverend Chu Yiu-ming – as well as six leading protesters who face a variety of public nuisance charges.
Defence lawyers have repeatedly expressed concerns over the fate of more than 700 other arrested demonstrators who have yet to face legal proceedings over the 79-day mass street sit-ins, which sought to extract concessions from the government on democratic development.
Gerard McCoy SC said some among them were potential witnesses in the case against the three founders and could end up prejudicing their own cases should they testify.
“It has been a thousand days” and these protesters had still not learned their fate, McCoy said.
But newly appointed Director of Public Prosecutions David Leung Cheuk-yin SC countered that the legal status of these protesters was “irrelevant” and an appropriate warning would be given if they needed to testify.
“Investigations are still ongoing,” Leung told West Kowloon Court in his first court appearance since his appointment last month.
“In these circumstances, it would be irresponsible and inappropriate for me to say any further whether there will be more prosecutions.”
The nine face a total of six charges in the case, which has been moved from the District Court to a lower magistrate’s new court building equipped with a bigger and technologically more advanced courtroom.
Academics Tai and Chan along with Reverend Chu 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.
The other defendants, lawmakers Tanya Chan and Shiu Ka-chun, as well as former student leaders Tommy Cheung Sau-yin and Eason Chung Yiu-wah, each face two incitement charges, as does 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.
McCoy revealed on Tuesday that his defence team had filed a motion to quash the charge of incitement to incite public nuisance since the “curious” offence was “unconstitutional”. He questioned the prosecution’s claim that the individual charges laid against his clients were unrelated to each other. They were fundamentally the same, he said, and prosecutors had taken “a very ambitious road” in claiming otherwise.
“This is a doubling up of offences,” he told District Judge Johnny Chan Jong-herng. “They are seeking to maximise the punishments inflicted on the defendants.”
McCoy suggested the trial of Lee and Wong should be separated from the rest since the pair’s alleged offences took place at a different location and were of a different nature.
While the prosecutor agreed there was “strong justification to sever” the case, he maintained the charges against the trio were not related and their criminality was “separate and distinct”.
“The prosecution is entitled to lay the appropriate charges,” Leung said. “The matter should proceed to a plea, and a trial if the defendants plead not guilty.”
Defence counsels playfully punctuated their speeches in court on Tuesday with the word “incite” in an effort to mock the incitement charges. Each mention elicited laughter from the public gallery.
McCoy revealed that there were about 100 potential prosecution witnesses, but said his clients would acknowledge the contents of videos filmed by police in order to reduce the number of witnesses who would need to be called and eliminate the need to watch 14 hours of protest footage in court.
“It would be like watching paint dry, and that would not be very exhilarating,” he said. “I will incite my clients to agree with as many facts as practicable.”
The pretrial review continues on Wednesday.