The successful conviction of the nine leaders of the 2014 Occupy movement using charges that carry harsher punishments could have a chilling effect on Hong Kong’s social movement in the future, legal experts and rights groups said on Wednesday. They were responding to the West Kowloon Court ruling the day before which found the group all guilty of at least one count of conspiracy to cause public nuisance, inciting others to cause public nuisance, or inciting others to incite. Prosecutors used three charges that were not statutory but common law offences, and each carries a maximum punishment of seven years in prison. Former Bar Association chairman Alan Leong Kah-kit said the three charges were unclear and could have a chilling effect on the organisers of any future rallies. “What is public nuisance? It means one should not disproportionately affect the rights of others,” said the senior counsel, who is also chairman of the opposition Civic Party. “But there is no objective definition of that.” Leong said the turnout at rallies was unpredictable and they could be rendered unlawful if they attracted bigger crowds than expected. “There would be a chilling effect as people might be wary or anxious as they call people into action,” he said. “The more successful [the protest] is, the more you would be prone to offences that could land you in prison.” But senior counsel Ronny Tong Ka-wah, an adviser to Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor in the Executive Council, said he did not believe the verdict would have a detrimental effect on future protests. “The judgment will only urge the public to think twice in the future, but it shouldn’t discourage people from voicing their concerns and taking to the streets in an orderly, lawful manner,” Tong said. Who are the Occupy leaders and what have they been convicted of? The city’s former top prosecutor Grenville Cross defended the public nuisance charge, saying it was a tried and tested offence established as part of the legal landscape. He also cited a British case which confirmed prosecutors would not breach the European Convention on Human Rights by bringing such charges. “It would appear, therefore, that those who are now complaining about the guilty verdicts are either unfamiliar with the matters I have mentioned, or else are deliberately disregarding them,” he said. Icarus Wong Ho-yin, a member of the Civil Rights Observer, called the ruling a threat to the freedom of assembly. He pointed to a United Nations report, which states that freedom of assembly should be protected as long as no violence is involved, and that organisers and participants should not face any legal consequences. Wong found it worrying that Judge Johnny Chan Jong-herng had only requested a pre-sentencing report on the suitability of community service for ex-student leader Tommy Cheung Sau-yin, the youngest of the nine at 24, despite having acknowledged the peaceful nature of the movement. “It implies it is likely the eight others will face a custodial sentence and in that case, it would be a huge threat to our rights and freedoms,” he said. Thanks for nothing as Occupy trio face jail A lawyer, who preferred not to be named as he was involved in the case, dubbed the charge “a new weapon”. Unlike other charges related to unlawful assembly, he said, public nuisance caught those who caused an obstruction, or in legal term “a common injury”. “Many protests are bound to cause disturbance,” he said. The lawyer said it was a new way to target protesters, even when a public procession was conducted peacefully. He also said the latest ruling had not shed light on how substantial an obstruction was required for it to warrant a criminal sanction, adding to the uncertainty. “When there is no guideline, it is dangerous,” he said. Tam Man-kei, director of Amnesty International Hong Kong, also expressed concern over the verdict, as the government could refer to the judgment to charge other Occupy protesters with the three offences.