Academic founders of pro-democracy movement convicted

CE election committee

CE election committee

Three of the nine - sociology professor Chan Kin-man, 60, law professor Benny Tai, 54, and Baptist minister Chu Yiu-ming, 75, who are deemed key leaders of the group - were found guilty of conspiracy to cause public nuisance. But the protests failed to win any reforms or concessions from Beijing.

In the five years since the Umbrella Movement, democracy activists, diplomats and business leaders have expressed concerns over what they believe is Beijing's tightening grip on the city's freedoms. Nine activists were all convicted on Tuesday of at least one charge in a prosecution that deployed rarely-used colonial-era public nuisance laws over their participation in the 2014 Umbrella Movement protests, which called for free elections for the city's leader.

The maximum jail term for such charges is seven years.

"At a time when most people would have thought that the aim of the Hong Kong Government should be to bring the whole community together it seems appallingly divisive to use anachronistic common law charges in a vengeful pursuit of political events which took place in 2014", Patten wrote on the website of the rights group Hong Kong Watch.

The judgement said the court heard submissions on the issue of the constitutionality and proportionality of the offenses of incitement to commit public nuisance and incitement to incite public nuisance, and found that the two offenses do not give rise to any chilling effect on the exercise of the fundamental rights to freedom of speech and freedom of peaceful assembly. But Hong Kong judges have since faced mounting pressure from Beijing to hand down heavier sentences to deter future protests.

In his summary of the judgment on Tuesday, Justice Johnny Chan said civil disobedience was not a defence to a criminal charge.

The verdicts come amid new warnings about the future of academic and political freedoms in Hong Kong.

While the movement had no official leaders, the nine activists were accused by Hong Kong prosecutors of having been primarily responsible for the disruption caused by the protests. The Hong Kong government a year ago banned a local political party that advocated the territory's independence from Beijing.

During the main trial hearings of the Umbrella 9 in December 2018, lawyers argued that the nine defendants had occupied public roads and became an "unreasonable obstruction".

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He said that Tai, Chan Kin-man, and Chu knew that the Occupy movement would cause "excessive inconvenience" to the general public, which disproportionately affected the rights of others.

"No matter what happens, I am confident that many of us will continue to strive for democracy".

Tai, speaking to Reuters before the verdict, said, "The reason that we committed civil disobedience is because we want justice for Hong Kong people".

The convictions followed a trial that has renewed alarm over shrinking freedoms under an assertive China which has rejected demands by Hong Kongers asking for a greater say in how the financial hub is run.

Prior to the verdict's announcement, Chan said he and the others had no regrets for their actions but were chiefly concerned with the movement's legacy.

Chan said that despite the verdict, his "soul is still". Chan said: "I just don't trust the university administration any more".

More than 250 other democracy activists were prosecuted and more than 100 convicted at two previous trials - these included former student leaders Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow.

In a 2014 photo a protester holds an umbrella during a performance on a main road in the occupied areas outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty.

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