The three co-founders of the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy protests – Benny Tai, Chan Kin-man and Reverend Chu Yiu-ming – along with six other leaders of the movement appeared before the District Court on Tuesday afternoon over public nuisance charges. The defence counsel called the charges “most unusual and strange.”
The nine were charged a day after Chief Executive Carrie Lam was elected this year. Eight of them are facing the common law charges of inciting others to create a public nuisance, and inciting others to incite more people to create a public nuisance.
The three co-founders face an additional charge of conspiring to create a public nuisance, while former Democratic Party lawmaker Lee Wing-tat faces only one charge of inciting others to create a public nuisance. Each of the charges carry a maximum penalty of seven years behind bars.
There was a full house in court on Tuesday, with pro-democracy politicians Emily Lau, Lam Cheuk-ting and Lau Siu-lai seen among those in the public gallery. Outside court, supporters of the Occupy activists and counter-protesters also engaged in a shouting match.
When defendant Raphael Wong – who is currently serving time for his involvement in the 2014 northeast New Territories protests – entered the courtroom, activist Leung Kwok-hung and other supporters cheered for the jailed protester: “We support you. Hongkongers will defeat [Justice Secretary] Rimsky Yuen. Shame on political prosecution.” The court guards then tried to intervene.
Two lawyers told the judge that “orchestrated chanting” inside the courtroom may amount to indignity for the judiciary and could constitute contempt of court.
Senior Counsel Gerard McCoy, who acts for the three co-founders, said that the charges were a “recipe for disaster” in terms of efficiency and fairness to the defendants.
“The fundamental complaint advanced by my lay clients is that the prosecution has over-complicated and overloaded the charge sheet, amounting to prosecution overkill,” he said, adding that the “most unusual and strange charges” were chosen.
McCoy said that the defendants will not dispute the facts relating to their actions, and they “remain highly motivated to admit their responsibility, have they been charged with what was the correct and only proper offence,” referring to that of unlawful assembly.
A plea was not entered on Tuesday. The defendants will appear before the court on January 9 to January 12 for the pre-trial review.
Additional reporting: Ellie Ng.