Hong Kong Law & Crime Politics & Protest

Trial of Umbrella Movement activists enters final stretch as prosecution makes argument for public nuisance

Hong Kong prosecutors made their concluding arguments on Tuesday as part of the ongoing trial against nine activists involved in the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement protests.

Director of Public Prosecutions David Leung told the court that protesters can exercise their right to peaceful demonstration, but the 2014 demonstrations occupied public roads and became an “unreasonable obstruction.”

David Leung Cheuk-yin

Director of Public Prosecutions David Leung Cheuk-yin. File photo: inmediahk.net.

Leung argued that the “Occupy trio” – Reverend Chu Yiu-ming and academics Benny Tai and Chan Kin-man – called for the public to participate in the unlawful occupation, despite earlier testimony from Chan that the movement spiralled out of their control.

The trio, along with six other politicians and activists, face various public nuisance and incitement charges. They carry a maximum jail sentence of seven years, though all defendants have pleaded not guilty.

On the trial’s fifteenth day, Leung presented the prosecution’s closing statement, arguing that the court must balance between the protesters’ rights and the public’s right to use the roads.

Leung cited local precedents related to “Spiderman” Matt Pearce, who in 2006 climbed atop a Central office building to display a protest banner. Pearce also climbed onto a structure on the Tsing Ma bridge in 2008.

West Kowloon Magistrates Court Law Courts Building

West Kowloon Magistrates Courts. File photo: HKFP/Ellie Ng.

Pearce was convicted of public nuisance both times, and was sentenced to 18 days and six months in jail respectively.

‘Technical amendments’

Leung told the court that the Occupy trio had announced the launch of their movement – “Occupy Central with Love and Peace” – in March 2013, with a plan to obstruct public roads and force a government response.

The trio must have foreseen that the eventual participants of the Occupy movement would obstruct the public, Leung said.

umbrella movement occupy trial

“Occupy trio” Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, Benny Tai and Chan Kin-man. Photo: inmediahk.net.

While the Umbrella Movement involved other student leaders, Leung argued that the Occupy trio should still be held responsible, and the divergences between the actual movement and the trio’s initial plans only counted as “technical amendments.”

Last week, the defence called expert witness Francis Lee, director of the journalism school at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Lee had conducted a poll of Umbrella Movement protesters in 2014, and the results showed only 6.5 per cent of respondents said they considered it “very important” to support the Occupy trio.

Leung disputed the methodology of Lee’s poll, and said that the Occupy trio should still be found guilty of incitement.

As for other defendants, Leung said they were responsible for inciting crowds to obstruct roads. The remaining six defendants are politicians Shiu Ka-chun, Lee Wing-tat and Tanya Chan, and activists Raphael Wong, Tommy Cheung and Chung Yiu-wa.

benny tai

Benny Tai. File photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

In an unexpected twist, law professor Benny Tai said on Tuesday he would make his own closing arguments, which is scheduled for the next day. Tai had previously declined to give evidence or call witnesses.

The trial continues before Judge Johnny Chan on Wednesday.

Trial of Umbrella Movement activists enters final stretch as prosecution makes argument for public nuisance