Nine pro-democracy activists convicted under colonial-era laws this morning for their roles in the 2014 Umbrella Movement protests will remain on bail for the time being, with the court expected to continue hearing mitigation arguments in the coming days before handing down sentences.
Among the most prominent members of the group on trial were the founders of “Occupy Central,” sociology professor Chan Kin-man, 60, law professor Benny Tai, 54, and Baptist minister Chu Yiu-ming, 75. All now face up to seven years in jail.
There were emotional scenes following the guilty verdict on Tuesday afternoon as the oldest defendant, Reverend Chu, delivered a statement in which he described the dock as “the most honorable pulpit of my ministerial career.”
He warned Hong Kong’s leadership against ignoring youth-led calls for greater democratic freedoms.
“The bell tolls. It gives out a warning sound, that something bad and disastrous is happening,” he said.
In a submission sent to journalists, fellow defendant Shiu Ka-chun added: “I want to warn the authoritarian government, even if you kill all the roosters, you cannot stop the dawn’s arrival.”
Human rights groups and critics hit out at the convictions, saying the use of the vaguely worded public nuisance laws — as well as prosecutors’ decision to pursue the steeper common law punishment — would have a chilling effect on free speech in Hong Kong.
Maya Wang, a senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the court “was sending a terrible message that will likely embolden the government to prosecute more peaceful activists.” Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, called the case “appallingly divisive” and “vengeful.”
But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang fired back at those criticisms, saying other countries would also have brought such a prosecution to “maintain order.”
“The central government resolutely supports [Hong Kong] in punishing the main organizations and planners of the illegal Occupy Central movement in accordance with the law,” he told reporters.