More than 760 scholars from local and overseas universities have signed a joint statement urging the government to stop prosecuting Hong Kong activists for their leadership role in the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy protests.

“These criminal prosecutions against peaceful academics and citizens have immense chilling effects on the international and local academia, students and the youth, in addition to inflicting permanent damage to Hong Kong’s reputation as a free and open society,” they said in a statement.

occupy protests
Occupy protests in Admiralty. File Photo: HKFP/Tom Grundy.

They expressed concern that the prosecution of the Occupy leaders marked only the beginning of “more political prosecutions” against academics, students and citizens in Hong Kong.

“It is our professional and moral responsibilities to defend and sustain an open and democratic society, the pursuit of justice, human rights, [and] freedom of assembly and speech,” the scholars said.

The statement was signed by 482 scholars from overseas institutions in countries such as the USA, Canada, Spain and Japan. Among the signatories were Columbia University professor Andrew Nathan, Stanford University professor Larry Diamond, and Oxford University senior fellow Laurence Whitehead, all of whom have written extensively about democracy in Asia.

More than 280 scholars from local universities have also signed the document.

Public nuisance charges

The statement was open for signature from last month until Thursday, when nine leaders behind the Occupy protests appeared in the Eastern Magistrates’ Courts for their criminal charges.

occupy democracy prosecution protest
The nine defendants of the Occupy prosecution case. Photo: Tommy Cheung, via Facebook.

The leaders are facing the common law charge of inciting others to create a public nuisance, which carries a maximum penalty of seven years behind bars.

On Thursday, the magistrate approved the prosecution’s request to transfer the case to the District Court, on the basis that it should not be delayed any further. A hearing is scheduled for June 15.

The defendants previously wanted to be tried at the High Court instead, so that the case would be put before a jury.

YouTube video

Sociology professor Chan Kin-man, one of those targeted, said earlier that he and two other founders of the movement will not plead guilty to the incitement charges, because it is an archaic charge “based on the backward assumption that those incited do not have a free will.”

International human rights watchdogs such as Amnesty International Hong Kong and Freedom House have condemned the prosecutions.

The Hong Kong government calls the 79-day Occupy protests an “illegal movement.”

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.