A social media campaign has been launched to support activists who are facing prosecution over their leadership roles in the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy protests.
Supporters posted on social media saying they are willing to testify in court about why they took to the street. “I am one of the Occupy protesters and I was incited by the police’s decision to fire 87 rounds of tear gas [at demonstrators],” one wrote.
On Monday, nine Occupy leaders received surprise phone calls from police saying that they would face public nuisance charges – more than two years after a police crackdown ended the 79-day demonstrations that shut down the heart of Hong Kong.
All of them are facing the common law charge of inciting others to create a public nuisance. Some were also charged with conspiring to create a public nuisance and inciting others to create a public nuisance. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison.
Among those targeted is sociology professor Chan Kin-man, co-founder of the Occupy movement. He said on a Commercial Radio show on Wednesday that he will not plead guilty to the incitement charges.
He said the founders are prepared to accept some charges – such as illegal assembly – if the prosecutor’s case is factually accurate, as a guilty plea would be in keeping with the principle of civil disobedience.
“But we don’t accept the incitement charge,” he said. “The UK has abolished the common law offence of incitement, because the law is based on the backward assumption that those incited do not have a free will.”
Barrister Chris Ng told HKFP that in English law, the common law offense of incitement has been replaced with a statutory offense of “encouraging” the commission of a crime. Under the statute, he said, “encouraging” a crime may be understood as a narrow version of the old offence of incitement.
Solidarity on social media
In response to the controversial decision to prosecute, pro-democracy supporters took to social media expressing willingness to testify about what “incited” them to join the Occupy movement.
Reasons given included tear gas fired by police, Beijing’s 2014 decision to bar open elections in Hong Kong, incumbent leader Leung Chun-ying’s governance, and the suppression of freedoms.
An activist said she participated in the protests throughout the 79 days to voice opposition to alleged power abuse by police and Beijing’s decision, among other reasons.
“It was all voluntary. No one incited me,” she wrote. “I only hope for a democratic, just and corruption-free society for future generations.”
Meanwhile, blogger and former law clerk Charles Tsang suggested that people testify in court about how the Occupy protests did not create a nuisance for them.
“I am happy to testify that during Occupy, it took me only 20 minutes to walk from my office in Central to the District Court in Wan Chai – even though I was wearing a suit and carrying a suitcase of legal documents,” Tsang said. “It would be impossible with normal traffic.”
The nine leaders facing charges will appear before the Eastern Magistrates’ Courts on Thursday. They will then stand trial at the District Court at a later date.
Local media cited sources as saying that as many as 39 people involved in the Occupy protests will soon face similar charges.
International human rights watchdogs such as Amnesty International Hong Kong and Freedom House have condemned the prosecutions. US senator Marco Rubio has also urged Chief Executive-elect Carrie Lam to work on political reforms that are consistent with Hongkongers’ democratic aspirations.
The Hong Kong government calls the Occupy protests an “illegal movement.”
Update 18:00: Updated with comments from barrister Chris Ng.