NINE members of Hong Kong’s “Occupy Central” movement, more popularly known as the “Umbrella Movement” will stand trial on Monday on charges that could send the veteran activists to prison for up to seven years.
Among them are three founders of the movement that saw huge crowds block off central parts of the city for 79 days in 2014. The group was calling for political reform and a full democracy in the city-state where leaders are still appointed by a pro-mainland China committee rather than the people.
While leaders of the student pro-democracy movement have drawn international attention, it was sociology professor Chan Kin-man, law professor Benny Tai, and Christian minister Chu Yiu-ming that founded the Occupy Central movement back in 2013.
On Monday, they will face charges of conspiracy to commit public nuisance, and incitement to commit public nuisance for their roles in the protest.
If found guilty, they, along with six other pro-democracy activists, could face a maximum seven-year jail sentence.
The 2014 protests sparked panic in Beijing and led to a crackdown that has so far seen over a thousand activists arrested for participating in the protests, more than 220 of whom were prosecuted and about 81 of them had already received jail sentences.
Hong Kong was handed back to China by the British in 1997. Under the terms of the handover, semi-autonomous Hong Kong is meant to enjoy freedoms unseen on the mainland, including freedom of expression, and fair, democratic elections.
However, the space for political dissent has shrunk in the face of an increasingly assertive China under President Xi Jinping. The one country, two systems agreement is due to expire in 2047, 50 years after the British left.
“The reason we had this protest is that China did not honour a promise to Hong Kong to let it have democracy,” Chan told reporters.
“We are just an example, showing how the rise of an undemocratic China can be threatening to the rest of the world.”
The protesters remained defiant as they prepared themselves for the impending legal battle.
Chan gave a farewell talk on Wednesday night to a full house of more than 600 people at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where he has been teaching for over two decades. He said he plans to come out of the experience “stronger” with the aim to “inspire” more people.
Despite suffering ill health, Chu also attended the talk, telling AFP: “We were always willing to be sacrificed in order to wake up the people.”
The trial at West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court is expected to last 20 days.