Two Hong Kong independence activists who were stripped of their status as lawmakers last year pleaded not guilty Friday to charges over chaos at the city’s parliament.
Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching were arrested last month and charged with unlawful assembly and attempted forcible entry into the legislative chamber.
They belong to a new movement calling for a complete split from China for semi-autonomous Hong Kong, as fears about Beijing’s tightening grip on the city grow.
The pair’s appearance came a day after nine activists were in court over their roles in massive 2014 pro-democracy protests in a case slammed by rights groups.
The crackdown on anti-Beijing campaigners comes ahead of an expected visit by China’s President Xi Jinping to mark the 20th anniversary of the handover of the city by Britain back to China in 1997 on July 1.
Yau, Leung and three others entered not guilty pleas to charges related to them trying to barge in to a legislative council meeting in November after they had been barred pending a court decision over their disqualification.
A court charge sheet said they behaved in a “disorderly, intimidating, insulting or provocative manner”.
Prosecutors said they expect to have 20 witnesses and 70 minutes of video evidence. A pre-trial review was set for July 14 and all five defendants were bailed.
In November, Yau and Leung ran into the main legislative chamber before security tried to bundle them out.
Once removed, they and their supporters tried to push their way into a committee room to which the disrupted session had been moved.
In the ensuing chaos, they clashed with security with at least three staff taken to hospital and police called in.
Despite being elected by the public, the pair were never allowed to take up their seats after protesting at their swearing-in ceremony last October.
They deliberately misread their oaths of office, inserted expletives and draped themselves with “Hong Kong is not China” flags.
Beijing intervened to ensure they were not given the chance to retake their oaths by making a special “interpretation” of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution.
The ruling said that any oath taker who does not follow the prescribed wording of the pledge, “or takes the oath in a manner which is not sincere or not solemn”, should be disqualified.
After the interpretation, Hong Kong’s High Court ruled to bar them both.