Occupy Central co-founder Benny Tai slams ‘shameful’ middle-aged protesters who have let Hong Kong student leaders take rap
Law professor at the University of Hong Kong Benny Tai thinks he will also be imprisoned after he and fellow founders were charged in March over roles in street protests
One of the architects of the 2014 Occupy protests, Benny Tai Yiu-tuing, yesterday said he expected to be jailed eventually, and the older generation of Hongkongers should be ashamed that three young student leaders had paid the price instead.
However, the Occupy Central co-founder, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong, dismissed Thursday’s court warning against the “unhealthy trend” of civil disobedience, insisting that he had never called for people to break the law arbitrarily.
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In March, Tai and his fellow Occupy founders – Dr Chan Kin-man and the Reverend Chu Yiu-ming – were charged for their roles in the pro-democracy street protests that brought parts of Hong Kong to a standstill.
The trio each face three counts related to causing a public nuisance. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of seven years in jail.
The District Court will hear the case again on September 19.
Watch: Student leaders jailed for storming government compound
In jailing Joshua Wong Chi-fung, 20, Nathan Law Kwun-chung, 24, and Alex Chow Yong-kang, 27, for six to eight months, Court of Appeal vice-president Wally Yeung Chun-kuen warned that in recent years, some people had “deliberately engaged in illegal acts under the excuse of pursuing ideals”.
“An unhealthy trend has been spreading in Hong Kong ... as some people, including intellectuals, shouted the slogan of ‘achieving justice by breaking the law’,” Yeung noted.
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On a radio programme yesterday, Tai said: “As I advocated civil disobedience, I did not arbitrarily call for people to break the law.”
“I hope that the prosecution can prove how we conspired. What did we do since our press conference in March 2013, how many meetings did we organise to deliberate on political reform ...
The civil disobedience movement was not telling people to break the law.”
Tai added that he was “pessimistic” about his own case: “From the directions of this ruling [on Thursday], I think it is likely that I will go to jail.”
Asked if he felt partly responsible for the young activists’ jail terms, Tai said: “Originally, my idea was that middle-aged people like us should bear the legal responsibilities of civil disobedience, but some young people asked ‘what about us?’
“Middle-aged people should feel ashamed. These selfless young people paid a personal price for the sake of social justice ... and others like the middle-aged should also do their part.”
Replying to the same question, fellow activist and Chinese University sociology professor Chan Kin-man said: “I am sure these students had a free [hand] on whether or not to join the struggle for democracy. The whole community owes these young people as they are paying for all of us.”
He also wrote on his Facebook page on Thursday: “I don’t know how the ruling will affect our case, but even if I am going to jail one day, I am still proud that I took part in the umbrella movement.”
Reverend Chu Yiu-ming could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The jailing of the trio came almost three years after they stormed the government headquarters compound at Tamar in September 2014. It also came almost a year after the justice department sought stiffer punishment after the trio were given community service sentences and a suspended jail term.
New Territories West lawmaker Alice Mak Mei-kuen of the pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions said she had heard residents complaining that the judicial process had taken too long.
But her colleague, Wong Kwok-kin, also from the federation, said: “As long as we agree to take these matters to our judicial system, we should respect the way it works.”
Mak agreed with Wong’s view.