A co-founder of the 2014 Hong Kong pro-democracy protests has testified in court that the “Occupy trio” lost control of the movement after it escalated into a full-blown street occupation.
Sociology professor Chan Kin-man was cross-examined on Monday as part of the ongoing trial of nine activists and politicians who were involved in the 79-day protests.
Chan, along with Reverend Chu Yiu-ming and legal academic Benny Tai face one charge of conspiracy to cause public nuisance and other incitement charges. The charges carry a maximum jail sentence of seven years.
All three have pleaded not guilty, with Chan opting to present evidence.
On Monday, Chan traced the origins of the protest back to the 2013 project “Occupy Central with Love and Peace” (OCLP). The plan was for people to occupy Chater Road in Central via non-violent civil disobedience, Chan said.
“If there were tens of thousands occupying Central, the government would not focus on dispersing and arresting protesters,” he said. “The primary concern would shift to introducing universal suffrage.”
Director of Public Prosecutions David Leung cross-examined Chan over the days leading up the eventual protest, noting that the concept of non-violence was repeatedly highlighted in much of OCLP’s publicity material.
“You were hoping that, with the preaching of love and peace, people would behave?” Leung asked. “It would be fair to say, you three expected for someone to become violent?”
Chan agreed, but said the Occupy trio had exhausted every means to minimise the risk of violence, including holding workshops, imposing rules and arranging marshalls who would keep order.
Chan said, during 2013 and 2014 when OCLP was undergoing deliberations, he expected a few thousand to ten thousand participants.
Occupation was a last resort, he added, and the goal was to arouse public awareness and not to cause disruption per se.
“I believe, at the end of the day, this movement was about the choice of values. If Hongkongers valued the right to universal suffrage, they would be able to tolerate a short-term disruption to road usage,” Chan said.
Things took a turn in 2014 when China’s top lawmaking body announced the August 31 decision, which restricted Hong Kong’s election mechanism for chief executive.
Chan said the move was the tipping point for the Occupy trio to go ahead with their plan. They had planned for it to take place on October 1, with the expectation of it lasting two to three days.
Reverend Chu had applied to the police for a letter of no objection, but had intentionally stated a shorter duration, Chan said.
“You three agreed to occupy Central for a few days, but only notified the police for part of the duration, so that… civil disobedience will kick in after the end of the notification?” Leung asked.
“I agree,” Chan replied.
However, their plans were brought forward when students held large-scale protests in late September.
At around 1:40 am on September 28, 2014, Tai announced at the Admiralty stage that the OCLP plan had officially begun.
Two defence lawyers – representing former student leaders Tommy Cheung and Eason Chung – questioned Chan as to whether the students had agreed to Tai’s move.
Chan rejected claims that the trio “hijacked” the movement, arguing that they went on stage at the students’ invitation.
“The message I got was that [the student leaders] were feeling tired and without direction. The Occupy trio hoped that, by announcing the start of OCLP, we could support the students,” he said.
Nevertheless, Chan said it was a chaotic time and that there had been no detailed discussion between the Occupy trio and student leaders on what exactly it meant for OCLP to “support” students.
Barrister Hectar Pun asked whether it was possible for there to be a “misunderstanding,” but Chan said it was unlikely.
Tai’s announcement faced backlash as some students had left the scene owing to ideological differences. In his testimony last week, Chan recalled that the turn of events was a “huge blow.”
“No student representative expressed disagreement [beforehand], it was only after the announcement that they said they disagreed,” Chan said.
According to Chan’s earlier testimony, the Occupy trio were not invited to meet with government representatives on October 21, 2014.
Chan said he was out of the spotlight by the end of October, and had turned himself in along with other activists in early December.
Besides the Occupy trio, the other defendants include politicians Shiu Ka-chun, Lee Wing-tat, Tanya Chan, activists Raphael Wong, Tommy Cheung and Chung Yiu-wa.
The trial continues on Tuesday before judge Johnny Chan.