HONG KONG – Nine prominent activists from the 2014 Hong Kong pro-democracy Umbrella Revolution street protests were convicted on Tuesday of public nuisance charges.
The 79-day protests and street occupations took place between September and December, 2014, and saw thousands demonstrate in Admiralty, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay. It was the largest civil disobedience movement in Hong Kong’s history.
Legal scholar Benny Tai, sociology professor Chan Kin-man, Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, lawmakers Tanya Chan and Shiu Ka-chun, former student leaders Tommy Chueng and Eason Chung, activist Raphael Wong, and former lawmaker Lee Wing-tat were all found guilty in West Kowloon Court of at least one public nuisance charge, from conspiracy to cause public nuisance and incitement to commit public nuisance, to incitement to incite public nuisance.
They face sentences of up to seven years in prison for each offense.
“No matter what happens, I am confident that many of us will continue to strive for democracy. We will persist and will not give up,” said Tai in front of a sea of supporters, according to local daily South China Morning Post.
The verdicts send a “terrible message that will likely embolden the government to prosecute more peaceful activists, further chilling free expression in Hong Kong,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement Tuesday.
Amnesty International also condemned the verdicts, saying that they are “a crushing blow for freedom of expression and peaceful protest in Hong Kong.”
On the other hand, Lu Kang, a spokesman for the foreign affairs ministry, said that the Chinese government supported the guilty verdicts because the protests “seriously damaged the prosperity, stability and normal life order” of Hong Kong.
Lu added that what he termed as some people’s “one-sided understanding” that the verdict damaged Hong Kong’s social freedom was “unreasonable and unfounded.”
According to HRW, some 200 demonstrators have been prosecuted so far for their participation in the social movement and dozens have been convicted and sentenced for various charges, including unlawful assembly, possession of offensive weapons, and common assault.
Prosecutor Andrew Bruce argued in November when the trial began, that the accused had committed unreasonable acts and that the almost-three-month-long street protests caused interruptions that affected the rights of other people.
HRW has repeatedly denounced that since the 2014 protests the governments of Hong Kong and China have increasingly clamped down on civil liberties.
An example of the deterioration of freedoms was the Sept. 24 banning of the Hong Kong National Party, which had no parliamentary representation and openly advocated for Hong Kong’s independence from the rest of China.