My Take

Charges against Occupy activists is bad timing, not persecution

Move against nine leaders and participants of the 2014 civil disobedience movement came a day after Carrie Lam was elected Hong Kong’s new leader

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 March, 2017, 1:29am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 March, 2017, 1:29am

The godfather of Hong Kong’s civil disobedience, Benny Tai Yiu-ting, has denounced charges brought against him and eight other leaders or participants of the 2014 Occupy protest movement as persecution. Coming as they did a day after the election of Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor as the next chief executive, one has to admit the optics look very bad indeed.

But most of the discussions yesterday, including Tai’s persecution claims, conflated two very different issues. One has to do with the timing of the charges; the other with whether the charges are legally appropriate. Once we have decided that the charges are appropriate, there is no question of persecution.

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Of the charges, the three Occupy leaders – the Reverend Chu Yiu-ming and academics Benny Tai and Chan Kin-man – face three counts each of conspiracy to commit public nuisance, inciting others to commit public nuisance, and inciting people to incite others to commit public nuisance.

Six others, including lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun, face one or both of the incitement charges.

Bearing in mind that the three occupy leaders had already turned themselves in to the police more than a year ago, their being charged should not be a surprise, even if the timing was unpredictable.

Tai even said yesterday that he would plead guilty if the facts of the case were in line with what had happened. Shiu has also said he takes responsibility for his actions during the Occupy protests.

It’s hard to claim political conspiracy or persecution when some of the key players themselves have admitted guilt or acknowledged responsibility.

I respect Lai and Shiu’s stance. Theirs is the real meaning of civil disobedience, so unlike that of many other Occupy protesters and Mong Kok rioters who have refused to take responsibility on the ground that their cause was just.

That leaves us with the timing. It’s possible, though highly unlikely, that Lam, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and government prosecutors conspired together to make sure the charges were laid only after her election.

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Or, maybe Lam was in the dark, as she claimed yesterday, but the others were in on it. If so, why not wait a bit longer?

It’s also possible, as the Department of Justice claimed yesterday, that the timing was purely coincidental. We will never know for sure. But we do know there is no persecution.