Hong Kong Law & Crime Politics & Protest

Hong Kong umbrella movement leader Benny Tai says he may plead not guilty to public nuisance charges

Law professor Benny Tai has said that he may plead not guilty to three charges relating to his role as a leader of the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy protests. Tai will appear in court on Tuesday to answer to three public nuisance charges.

Tai previously said he was willing to plead guilty if the charges against him were factually accurate. But he said at a public forum on Sunday that he would likely not do so, as the charges were problematic. He faces three charges: conspiracy to commit public nuisance, inciting others to commit public nuisance, and inciting others to incite others to commit public nuisance.

He said it was extremely rare to be charged with the common law crime of public nuisance, as related actions were already covered under other laws.

Benny Tai.

Benny Tai. File photo: In-Media.

Tai said the judge already questioned whether the three counts overlap at a previous hearing, and that his lawyers will present a defence on this point. He said that a not guilty plea would not violate the spirit of civil disobedience – the central theme of the 79-day Occupy demonstrations.

“But I don’t think that not pleading guilty violates the spirit of civil disobedience. Because we did not hide our identities when we took action, we did not resist arrest, and we did not hide when the court summoned us.”

But he added that he would wait and see whether the prosecution would be allowed to proceed with the three counts.

Eight of the nine Occupy leaders are facing the common law charges of inciting others to create a public nuisance, and inciting others to incite more people to create a public nuisance.

Tai and two other founders of the Occupy movement – sociology professor Chan Kin-man and Reverend Chiu Yiu-ming – face an additional charge of conspiring to create a public nuisance, while former Democratic Party lawmaker Lee Wing-tat faces only one charge of inciting others to create a public nuisance. Each of the charges carries a maximum penalty of seven years behind bars.

See also: The 10 lawmakers facing disqualification: Post-Occupy payback in slow motion

Tai spoke at a forum on the jailing of 13 activists who opposed the New Territories development plan, as well as three Occupy protesters. He called for residents to join a rally on September 28 – the third anniversary of the Occupy protests, as well as one on October 1.

Activist Avery Ng said at the same forum that the National Day rally on October 1 would be a “march against authoritarian power” under the theme: “Against political charges; support political prisoners.”

Avery Ng Man-yuen

Avery Ng. File photo: Elson Tong/HKFP.

He said residents dressed in black will march from Victoria Park to government headquarters, adding that details would be announced next week.

A rally was held at Tamar Park on the same day protesting independence and calling for Tai to be sacked from the University of Hong Kong.

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Hong Kong umbrella movement leader Benny Tai says he may plead not guilty to public nuisance charges