Hong Kong Law & Crime Politics & Protest

Leading Hong Kong Umbrella Movement activists found guilty of public nuisance

Nine leading activists of Hong Kong’s 2014 Umbrella Movement have been convicted of public nuisance charges, concluding one of the city’s most politically charged trials in years.

Legal scholar Benny Tai was convicted of two public nuisance-related charges on Tuesday, whilst sociology professor Chan Kin-man was also found guilty of two charges. Reverend Chu Yiu-ming was convicted of one charge relating to the 79-day protests.

The Umbrella Movement was the biggest pro-democracy protest in the city’s history, during which thousands occupied Admiralty, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay from September to December of 2014.

Chu Yiu-ming, Chan Kin-man, Benny Tai

From left: Chu Yiu-ming, Chan Kin-man, Benny Tai. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

The trio was among nine activists charged with varying levels of public nuisance and incitement, which come with a maximum jail sentence of seven years. All previously pleaded not guilty.

See also: Hong Kong’s last colonial leader calls Umbrella Movement verdicts ‘appallingly divisive,’ as int’l NGOs decry charges

On Tuesday morning, district court Judge Johnny Chan delivered the following verdicts:

Legal scholar Benny Tai
– conspiracy to commit public nuisance: guilty
– incitement to commit public nuisance: guilty
– incitement to incite public nuisance: not guilty

Sociology professor Chan Kin-man
– conspiracy to commit public nuisance: guilty
– incitement to commit public nuisance: guilty
– incitement to incite public nuisance: not guilty

Reverend Chu Yiu-ming
– conspiracy to commit public nuisance: guilty
– incitement to commit public nuisance: not guilty
– incitement to incite public nuisance: not guilty

Lawmaker Tanya Chan
– incitement to commit public nuisance: guilty
– incitement to incite public nuisance: guilty

Lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun
– incitement to commit public nuisance: guilty
– incitement to incite public nuisance: guilty

Former student leader Tommy Cheung
– incitement to commit public nuisance: guilty
– incitement to incite public nuisance: guilty

Former student leader Eason Chung
– incitement to commit public nuisance: guilty
– incitement to incite public nuisance: guilty

Activist Raphael Wong
– incitement to commit public nuisance: guilty
– incitement to incite public nuisance: guilty

Democratic Party veteran Lee Wing-tat
– incitement to commit public nuisance: guilty

During the trial last December, the Department of Justice argued that the nine defendants occupied public roads and became an “unreasonable obstruction.” They were also guilty of incitement because they had called on the public to join them, prosecutors added.

According to the prosecution, the “Occupy trio” – Tai, Chan and Chu – called for the public to participate in the unlawful “Occupy Central” movement in 2013, which was the precursor to the Umbrella Movement a year later.

See also: In Full: The testimony of protest organiser Chan Kin-man at the trial of the Umbrella Movement 9

umbrella movement activist court

Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

The nine defendants responded that the occupation was a form of peaceful civil disobedience and the crowds only joined of their own accord, or because of the police decision to use tear gas. In his closing submissions, Tai delivered an emotional speech on civil disobedience and democracy: “If we were to be guilty, we will be guilty for daring to share hope at this difficult time in Hong Kong,” he said.

Civil disobedience ‘no defence’

In his 268-page judgment, Judge Chan directly addressed the issue of civil disobedience, saying that the concept was recognised by Hong Kong courts but was not a viable defence.

“Much as the defendants rely on the concept of civil disobedience, civil disobedience does not constitute any defence to a criminal charge brought against a defendant… civil disobedience is not a defence in law,” he wrote.

“It is no function of the court to adjudicate the merits of the political cause behind the civil disobedience in the trial,” Chan added, saying that the court should focus on the legal elements of the offence.

Nevertheless, Chan did opine about the practicality of the trio’s Occupy Central with Love and Peace plan to occupy roads, calling it “unrealistic” and “naïve.”

“It is naïve to suggest that a concession to introduce the form of universal suffrage advocated by the [Occupy] Trio could be made by the government overnight with a click of fingers,” the judgment read.

“It is equally naïve to suggest a mass protest of tens of thousands of people could be dispersed overnight even if a positive response were to come from the authorities.”

Prosecutorial tactics

Chan also addressed the charges laid against the nine, which were criticised by the defence as unconstitutional and poorly formulated.

Defence lawyers have especially questioned the use of the “incitement to incite” charge and conspiracy charges.

However, Chan ruled that the prosecution was correct to distinguish the between “incitement” and “incitement to incite.”

“Though the offences of ‘incitement to commit a public nuisance’ and ‘incitement to incite public nuisance’ both concern causing a public nuisance by the unlawful obstruction of public places and roads, [the two] are separate and different offences with different ingredients,” he wrote.

He further said that the conspiracy charge – which affected the Occupy Trio – “could not have the undesirable effect of curtailing or suppressing civil disobedience at its formation stage or suppressing human rights as the defendants allege.”

police tear gas admiralty hong kong democracy occupy universal suffrage umbrella movement

September 2014. File photo: inmediahk.net.

All of the charges were constitutional, the judge concluded.

‘My soul is still’

On Tuesday morning, the hearing was slated to start at 9:30am but was delayed for an hour due to “typos” found in the printed judgment.

The nine activists walked onto the grounds of the West Kowloon Law Courts Building together ahead of the verdict. Leading a crowd of over a hundred, they chanted slogans such as “civil disobedience without fear” and “I want true universal suffrage.”

Most said that they were feeling calm and had no regrets. Chan said the nine of them were “in good spirits,” and were more concerned about the judgment of Hongkongers than that of the court.

“My soul is still, I still believe in the power of love and peace. And I have no regrets for what I have done,” Chan said.

Tai called on supporters to continue supporting the cause of democracy. “When I first arrived here this morning, actually I felt very calm. But when I see so many supporters coming, then I feel so excited,” he said. “And no matter what happens today, I have the confidence that many people here will strive for Hong Kong’s democracy.”

Chu also echoed the sentiments of Tai, telling Hongkongers not to lose heart.

umbrella movement 9

Baptist minister Chu Yiu-ming (R), law professor Benny Tai (L) and sociology professor Chan Kin-man (C) react as they enter the West Kowloon Magistrates Court in Hong Kong on April 9, 2019, to find out if they face jail for their involvement in the 2014 Umbrella Movement protests. Photo: Anthony Wallace/AFP.

After the verdict was announced, the nine defendants walked out of the courtroom to supportive applause.

Despite their convictions, their bail was extended until 2:30pm when the court resumes to hear arguments on sentencing.


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Leading Hong Kong Umbrella Movement activists found guilty of public nuisance