Supporters who observed the court verdict of the Occupy leaders on Tuesday sobbed as one of the movement’s three co-founders delivered an emotional submission which he called a sermon from the dock.
Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, 75, recounted in his 11-page mitigation his personal journey as an orphan turned clergyman and his decades-long struggle for democracy, hours after he was found guilty of conspiracy to cause public nuisance for his role in the 2014 civil disobedience movement.
“Today, old and grey, I find myself in the defendant’s dock, making a final plea as a convict. It looks so absurd, if not outright shameful for a person holding any office,” Chu said.
“Yet … my heart tells me that with this defendant’s dock, I have found the most honourable pulpit of my ministerial career.”
All nine key Occupy leaders were found guilty by the West Kowloon Court on Tuesday. Legal academic Benny Tai Yiu-ting and sociologist Dr Chan Kin-man, who co-founded the movement with Chu, were convicted of two offences related to public nuisance.
But Tai and Chan, through their lawyer, made it clear that they did not intend to submit any mitigation letters written by themselves or others – only to ask the court to spare Chu time in jail.
In his submission, Chu said his training as a clergyman had taught him to always walk the extra mile alongside the people and to nurture hope.
That is why he decided to help lead the civil disobedience at the invitation of Tai three years after he retired in 2010.
“I am just a bell toller. I ring the bell,” Chu said, as he fought back tears on several occasions. “So doing, I hope that consciences may wake up, and together we work together to save the day.”
He also declared, on behalf of Tai and Chan as well, that they had no regrets, grudges, anger or grievances and pledged they would not give up, even if they were thrown behind bars.
Gerard McCoy SC, representing the trio, called on the judge not to impose custodial sentences because what they did could “only be described as altruistic and selfless”.
“This case is not the usual one about ‘greed, lust and anger’. These are exceptional cases with an exceptional situation,” McCoy said. “What motivated them was their love for Hong Kong and their desire for love and peace … They take the purist and principled position because they think the case is not about the individual impact on themselves.”
The barrister also described Chu as a man of God and a man of peace, and called on the judge to consider his “serious medical conditions”.
Robert Pang Yiu-hung SC, for another defendant Shiu Ka-chun, also urged the judge to spare the lawmaker jail, as he suffered from diabetes, which had recently affected his eyesight.
About 200 supporters – mainly middle-aged or older – who came to observe the verdict outside the courtroom had defied the security guards’ warning and gave the nine leaders minutes of applause when the judge adjourned the two sessions of the meeting.
Despite the possibility of going to jail, all the Occupy leaders remained upbeat and affable as they arrived in the court on Tuesday morning. They jokingly referred to each other as the first defendant or the second defendant – as they had been called throughout the case.
The court will continue to hear the mitigation of five other defendants – Tanya Chan, Lee Wing-tat, Tommy Cheung Sau-yin, Eason Chung Yiu-wa and Raphael Wong Ho-ming – on Wednesday morning.