The activists convicted over their involvement in the 2014 Umbrella Movement gave heartfelt courtroom speeches on Wednesday, calling on the people of Hong Kong to continue pushing for democracy.
They were speaking as part of the mitigation process, where the judge hears arguments on what the appropriate sentence should be.
“My only wish is that people who started on the same path will not grow further apart. The days to come may be difficult, but let us not forget about the beauty of our selfless sacrifice at the start,” former student leader Tommy Cheung said.
“We must care about our world and not just our place in it,” said former student leader Eason Chung. “There are no saints to follow on this journey. We will be lost, and the selves that we have been building will crumble and approach destruction, but in the end we will be reborn.”
The activists were each found guilty of at least one public nuisance charge on Tuesday, and each could face up to seven years behind bars.
District court Judge Johnny Chan postponed the actual sentencing until April 24 to allow time for a report on defendant Tommy Cheung’s eligibility for community service. In the meantime, all nine were released on bail.
Mitigation began on Tuesday afternoon, with the “Occupy trio” – scholars Benny Tai, Chan Kin-man and Reverend Chu Yiu-ming – giving their submissions.
Chu delivered an emotional “sermon” from the dock, as Tai and Chan urged the court not to jail the elderly pastor.
On Wednesday, the remaining six defendants all made personal submissions, with some choosing to read theirs aloud in court. While mitigation pleas are typically addressed to the judge, the activists used the opportunity to address the public.
Former student leader Eason Chung
Barrister Philip Dykes said Chung wanted to be considered as “an everyman,” with no identifiable traits except a “commitment to a democratic ideal.”
In a ruminative speech, Chung said that the people really being prosecuted were “everyone who participated in the Umbrella Movement, and everyone who… cherishes Hong Kong.” He did not have much to say, he said, because there were things that the court could not comprehend.
Chung urged people to continue pushing at “the point where political and economic power intersect,” and to engage with the world personally. Casting the social movement as a path to self-discovery, he said that he believed Hongkongers could be reborn in the wake of the Umbrella Movement.
“We must destroy the self that is moulded by a system of rules and power, and venture into a world full of unknowns and tangled in history, personal struggle, and manifold coincidences,” he said. “This is not something that could be said or known in this court.”
Chung was the only person to actively request the court not consider a community service order.
Former student leader Tommy Cheung
Barrister Hectar Pun said Cheung’s actions during the Umbrella Movement were “not for personal gain” and involved no violence.
Cheung spent much of his speech recounting his time in student politics, where he played leading roles in the Federation of Students and the student union of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
“Perhaps pragmatists will say that we only talk about ideals but never act on them. But if students were all worldly and tactful, who would be left to wholeheartedly pursue ideals and bring changes to society?” he said.
He said that the Umbrella Movement ultimately broke down because of internal splits, and urged Hongkongers to “repair relationships” and “trace back to their original intentions.”
After the Wednesday mitigation hearing, Cheung told reporters he did not have especially high hopes that he would receive a lenient sentence. Despite the judge asking for pre-sentence reports on him – a possible precursor to a community service order – Cheung said it was not a sure bet and he would leave it “in the hands of fate.”
Activist Raphael Wong
Wong submitted his mitigation statement through his lawyer Lawrence Lok. In it, Wong wrote that he remained firmly committed to his democratic ideals.
He said that he was not seeking a criminal sentence just to make a point, or encourage copycats: “I am doing this precisely because I do not wish to see other young men following my footsteps into prison. Because of this, I need to fight for what is ours fearlessly.”
Wong also recounted a previous brush with the judge, saying that Judge Johnny Chan had presided over a case involving him eight years ago. At the time, Wong was charged with disorder in public places but was ultimately cleared.
“I have spent the best 10 years of my youth in social movements,” he wrote. “If I can live up to 80 years old, I would still have 50 years to walk alongside the people of Hong Kong, to continue the fight. If this is in doubt, please test my will against the whips of criminal punishment. I shall take this as a trial of my determination.”
Lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun
Barrister Robert Pang on Tuesday asked the court to consider community service or a suspended sentence for Shiu, partly because Shiu suffered from type 2 diabetes and needed injections. This request was not granted on Wednesday, as the judge did not ask for a suitability report for a community service order in relation to Shiu.
In his written statement, Shiu traced his career as a social worker, which eventually led him to join the Occupy Central with Love and Peace campaign in that capacity. He also spoke about his advocacy for the underprivileged after he became a lawmaker in 2016.
“At this moment, I want to remind those who live in the dark to not get used to dark, not to defend darkness out of habit, and not to scoff at those who search for the light,” he said.
“At this moment, I warn the authoritarian government: even if you kill all the roosters, you cannot stop the coming of the dawn.”
Lawmaker Tanya Chan
Barrister Wong Ching-yu said there were no Hong Kong precedents to assist the sentencing of those convicted of inciting public nuisance.
He then read out a brief statement written by Chan: “I was born and raised in Hong Kong. I feel honoured and fortunate to have worked and contributed myself to Hong Kong in my own position. What I received was good enough to use in my lifetime; what I paid was not worth mentioning. I have lived my life without regrets nor resentments, but only infinite gratitude.”
Democratic Party veteran Lee Wing-tat
Lee said that it was the “greatest honour” in his life to be one of the organisers of the Umbrella Movement.
“I know that the path to democracy is long, bumpy and winding… but I believe that as long as Hongkongers don’t lose heart, the day will come for universal suffrage,” Lee said.
Barrister Edwin Choy said that Lee was retired and was mostly living off his savings, and was a man of peace. While Lee only had limited involvement in the occupation, he was nevertheless proud of to be associated, Choy said.
Delay in prosecution
Multiple defence lawyers called on the judge to consider the delay in prosecution, as the nine activists were only arrested in March 2017 – more than two years after the occupation ended.
The delay should play a factor in deciding sentences, they said, since it already affected the defendants’ life plans.
Director of Public Prosecutions David Leung said that the process took time because 1,003 individuals were arrested in relation to the Umbrella Movement. There were also 335 investigative reports, 300 witness statements and 1,133 video clips for the police to go through, he said.
The Hong Kong Free Press #PressForFreedom 2019 Funding Drive seeks to raise HK$1.2m to support our non-profit newsroom and dedicated team of multi-media, multi-lingual reporters. HKFP is backed by readers, run by journalists and is immune to political and commercial pressure. This year’s critical fundraiser will provide us with the essential funds to continue our work into next year.