The activists convicted for their involvement in the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement have had their bail extended as they await sentencing.
A Hong Kong court delivered a guilty verdict for all nine on Tuesday morning, with each of the defendants found guilty of at least one public nuisance-related charge.
The Umbrella Movement was the biggest pro-democracy protest in the city’s history. Thousands set up camps and blocked roads in Admiralty, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay from September to December of 2014.
Defence lawyers started making their arguments on sentencing on Tuesday afternoon, but the process will continue into Wednesday. In the meantime, District Court Judge Johnny Chan extended the bail period so that the activists did not need to be kept behind bars overnight.
Barrister Gerard McCoy – representing the “Occupy trio” of Benny Tai, Chan Kin-man and Chu Yiu-ming – made an impassioned plea in court, saying that the three men’s motives “can only be described as altruistic and selfless.”
“Greed, lust or anger – this is none of those situations,” McCoy said. “These are necessarily exceptional cases with exceptional motivations.”
The three activists paid the “criminal law price for intellectual and principled beliefs,” he added.
In a dramatic development, McCoy revealed that Chan and Tai had asked that no mitigation letters be submitted on their behalf. Typically, a convicted defendant in criminal cases can call on supporters to write letters to the court to ask for leniency.
Chan and Tai – who were both university scholars – also asked the court not to consider their personal backgrounds in determining sentences. The two men adopted a “purist” position, McCoy said, because they thought the case was “not about the individual impact to themselves.”
The only request Chan and Tai made was for the court to not impose a jail sentence for their colleague Chu. “They don’t care for themselves, they care very much for him,” McCoy said.
‘Take one more step’
Chu also spoke during his own mitigation process, delivering an emotional speech from the dock that at times resembled a sermon. Drawing frequently from scripture, Chu spoke at length about his childhood, faith, illness and activism.
“In the Umbrella Movement, I am just a bell toller… In so doing, I hope that consciences may wake up, and together we work to save the day,” he said.
Chu said that, as a child, he lived in poverty with his grandmother in mainland China and witnessed the horrors of Mao-era land reform.
After he went to Hong Kong, he first worked as an apprentice, later coming to know the Christian faith after an episode of heart illness.
Chu said he always wanted to “take one more step” with the people at his Chai Wan parish – not just offering prayer but practical assistance in dealing with the government.
He felt the “conservative” Christian church disapproved of his activist outlook, but said the Bible provided him with the courage to stick to his convictions.
“My resolve: to walk with the people. Take one more step to improve their lives,” he said.
Chu also recounted his struggle with severe illnesses, his involvement with various pro-democracy groups, and how he eventually played a role in the Umbrella Movement.
Chu’s speech drove some to tears inside the courtroom. After the hearing, the nine were greeted by applause from supporters as they left.
The hearing will resume on Wednesday.
Kong Tsung-gan‘s new collection of essays – narrative, journalistic, documentary, analytical, polemical, and philosophical – trace the fast-paced, often bewildering developments in Hong Kong since the 2014 Umbrella Movement. As Long As There Is Resistance, There Is Hope is available exclusively through HKFP with a min. HK$200 donation. Thanks to the kindness of the author, 100 per cent of your payment will go to HKFP’s critical 2019 #PressForFreedom Funding Drive.