Activists Joshua Wong and Lester Shum were among seven people who pleaded guilty on Thursday to criminal contempt for disregarding a court order to clear a protest site in Mong Kok during the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy movement.

Senior Counsel Lawrence Lok, representing the defendants, pleaded in mitigation at the High Court that none of his clients behaved violently during the clearance. “None of these respondents share any common characteristics of a criminal. They are not really criminal in that sense,” he said.

joshua wong
Photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

“Even with high-profile respondents such as Wong and Shum, they did not resort to their personal fame in inciting people,” Lok said.

“There was no incitement, no violence,” he said of Joshua Wong. “This young man has a noble motive.”

Legislative Council election

In October 2014, a minibus company successfully applied for an injunction from the court to ban demonstrators from occupying streets in Mong Kok. Police arrested 20 activists for allegedly obstructing the work of bailiffs during the clearance on November 26 that year.

Of the 20 defendants, seven – including Wong and Shum – pleaded guilty on Thursday. Four others plan to plead guilty next Monday, the defence team said.

occupy mong kok
Bailiffs read out a court notice at the Occupy Mong Kok protest site. Photo: HKFP/Tom Grundy.

The court heard that Wong, Shum and former student leader Jason Szeto Tze-long were motivated by their belief in civil disobedience and dissatisfaction with Beijing’s ban on open elections in Hong Kong when they participated in the Occupy protests.

Lok said they went to the Mong Kok protest site during the clearance to ensure the safety of protesters, as triad members were rumoured to be showing up to “stir hatred and violence.”

The lawyer asked Mr. Justice Andrew Chan to consider fining Wong as a non-jail option.

He said Wong intended to run for the Legislative Council election in 2021, and a prison term longer than three months would “dash that hope” under the Legislative Council Ordinance.

Meanwhile, Wong said outside the court that his intention to run for the legislature was not his priority.

Joshua Wong
Joshua Wong. Photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

He said he would not regret pleading guilty even if he was sentenced to more than three months in prison, as he thinks protest organisers should bear legal responsibility for their actions.

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Lawyer Jonathan Man told HKFP that judges have wide discretion in deciding the sentence for the common law offence of contempt of court. He said there is no ordinance stating the maximum penalty for this type of offence.

‘Sleep in tent’

Meanwhile, Lok said some of the defendants did not know what was happening and only went to the protest site out of curiosity or owing to peer pressure.

One of them was Chu Wai-lun, who was 21 at the time of arrest. Lok said his client had developed a habit of sleeping at his friends’ homes owing to his “extremely poor living conditions.”

He said this habit provided the context as to why Chu went to sleep in a tent “randomly” on the eve of clearance after missing the last available bus.

However, Judge Chan said he did not accept the explanation.

Senior Counsel Lawrence Lok
Senior Counsel Lawrence Lok. Photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

Lok replied that he tried to put himself in his client’s shoes. “There is certain conduct that my generation will not be able to understand,” he said.

In response, Judge Chan said: “I understand why he would sleep at his friends’ home, but we don’t go to a tent randomly and sleep there.”

The judge said he will hand down a sentence after the end of the trial, which is scheduled for 45 days. The hearing continues on Friday.

The other three defendants who pleaded guilty on Thursday were Chau Wan-ying, Cheung Kai-hong, and Choi Tat-shing.

The nine defendants who did not plead guilty said earlier that they would not deny that they were present, but they would challenge whether their actions constituted contempt of court.

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Ellie Ng

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