‘Govt’s dismissive attitude led to Umbrella Movement protest,’ pro-democracy leader tells court

A leader of Occupy Central movement has blamed the government’s dismissive attitude for triggering the 2014 pro-democracy protests, which later became known as the Umbrella Movement.

Sociology Professor Chan Kin-man made the comments yesterday while giving testimony at a court case against him and eight other key figures involved with the mass demonstrations.

The group face “public nuisance” charges in relation to their roles in the protests, which saw thousands of Hongkongers occupy major thoroughfares in the city for up to 79 days.

Chan, who was representing himself, took particular aim at Carrie Lam — who was then Chief Secretary and the second-highest ranking member of the government — and the then-undersecretary for constitutional affairs, Lau Kong-wah.

The professor — along with law scholar Benny Tai and Reverend Chu Yiu-ming — founded Occupy Central to pressure the government into allowing a free vote for the post of chief executive.

According to Ming Pao, Chan told the court that in July 2014, the trio held a meeting with Lam and Lau at the Central Government Office, where Lau repeatedly branded their cause as radical, and Lam called for the trio to put an end to the movement.

He said that the trio also presented a report which stated the outcomes of a “civil referendum” that was held earlier that year. The civil referendum refers to an informal poll organized by the Occupy Central trio, which found that a majority of the 790,000 people who voted said they wanted to nominate the candidates for chief executive, or “universal suffrage” as it was referred to during the protests. (Currently candidates for the position are selected by a pro-Beijing committee.)

Chan told the court that the meeting lasted less than an hour, no arrangements were made for further meetings, and that the two officials just left the report on the sofa and didn’t take it with them.

This, he said, left the group with no choice but to pursue civil disobedience.

On August 31 that year, mainland authorities announced that Hongkongers would be allowed to vote for their leader, but that all candidates would need to be vetted first before they can run.

Thousands of Hongkongers took to the streets in late September, and the Umbrella Movement officially began on the 28th, shortly after students — led by Joshua Wong and the Hong Kong Federation of Students — charged into a government forecourt and popular demonstration area.

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