Eight pro-democracy activists who led Hong Kong’s 2014 Umbrella Movement protests were sentenced on Wednesday after being convicted of public nuisance charges two weeks ago.
Update: 19 reactions to the Umbrella Movement sentences: Democrats, foreign gov’ts and int’l NGOs decry jailings
Legal scholar Benny Tai and retired sociology professor Chan Kin-man were each handed 16-month jail terms for one charge and an 8-month jail term for the other. Both will go to jail for 16 months as their sentences will be served at the same time starting from Wednesday.
Reverend Chu Yiu-ming was handed a sentence of 16 months, suspended for two years. The judge said that he was “impressed and touched” by Chu’s commitment to social justice, adding that he opted for leniency due to Chu’s age, health and his contributions to society spanning three decades.
Activist Raphael Wong and lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun were both sentenced to eight months behind bars, to be served immediately.
Former student leader Eason Chung and Democratic Party veteran Lee Wing-tat have both been given eight months in jail, suspended for two years. The judge said Lee was spared from jail because of his past contributions to society, and Chung was also treated lightly because of his young age.
Former student leader Tommy Cheung was given a community service order of 200 hours, to be completed in a year.
Lawmaker Tanya Chan’s sentencing was postponed to June 10 after her lawyer revealed that she had a brain tumour requiring urgent surgery.
The 2014 Umbrella Movement was the biggest pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong’s history, which was sparked by public discontent with Beijing’s proposal for electing the city’s leader. Thousands called for “true universal suffrage” as they blocked roads in Admiralty, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay from September to December of 2014.
The nine defendants were charged in March 2017 with various counts of conspiracy to commit public nuisance, incitement to commit public nuisance and incitement to incite public nuisance.
In deciding the sentences, district court judge Johnny Chan said that none of the defendants expressed any regret: “By regret, I do not mean the defendants should give up their political beliefs or their political demands… I mean the defendants should express regret for the inconvenience and sufferings they had caused.”
“It is an apology that the members of the public rightly deserve from the defendants, but never received,” he added.
Chan also drew attention to the “excessive damage and inconvenience” that the protests caused to the public, saying that the activists “failed to notice the ordinary folks.”
While the activists had vowed to assume responsibility for their unlawful acts, Chan countered by saying the costs were not limited to the nine individuals. “The martyrdom the defendants exhibited was a contorted one in that the price that each of them was prepared to pay also had to be borne by the ordinary folks,” he said.
Nevertheless, the judge noted that the defendants – with the exception of Wong who had a criminal record – were persons of “positive good character.” This resulted in one to two months being knocked off their respective sentences.
Even for Wong, the judge said his previous criminal convictions would not affect his sentence in this case.
Tanya Chan ill
Barrister David Ma said that lawmaker Tanya Chan had a life-threatening brain condition which required operation within two weeks, citing an MRI and a radiologist’s report submitted to the court.
While the judge was initially sceptical to “go into the brain of the defendant,” he postponed sentencing for Chan until June 10 and extended her bail.
“Any operation has its risks. I am afraid, but I will definitely recover as soon as possible. God has given me two major challenges at once, and I will face them bravely, please don’t worry,” Chan later wrote on Facebook. “Mom, have faith in your daughter; I can take care of this.”
Separately, barrister Hectar Pun made a case for a community service order for former student leader Tommy Cheung. “He has a track record for social service… he is very suitable for a community service order, a perfect matching,” Pun said.
The other defendants made no additional mitigation arguments on Wednesday.
On Wednesday morning, Chief Executive Carrie Lam was asked about the sentencing of the Umbrella Movement activists. She said she would respect the court’s decision but would not comment on further prosecutions: “I want to reiterate that Hong Kong is a rule of law society, and we deeply cherish the spirit of the rule of law. No matter if it is the government or the public, they must respect and strictly adhere to the law… I cannot see how these court cases have affected freedom of speech, assembly or demonstration in the free society of Hong Kong.”
However, Maya Wang, China researcher at Human Rights Watch said the nine should never have been prosecuted in the first place: “The long sentences [send] a chilling warning to all that there will be serious consequences for advocating for democracy.”
Meanwhile, the UK, EU and US consulates expressed concern as pro-democracy group Demosisto called the sentences “appalling.”
The jail sentences marked an end to one of Hong Kong’s most daring political experiments – Occupy Central with Love and Peace, a civil disobedience campaign aimed at electoral reform. OCLP is now seen as a precursor to the Umbrella Movement, and the “Occupy trio” – Tai, Chan and Chu – said in one of their first public appearances that protesters should be ready to go to prison.
“The participants should resolve to accept going to jail – for how long, I don’t know,” Tai said in March 2013. “We hope [Hongkongers] are willing to pay the price.”
On Wednesday, the judge cited British and European court cases to make the point that sentencing in civil disobedience cases was “fact-sensitive.” There was also no bright line dividing immediate jail sentences and non-custodial sentences, he said.
After a lengthy review of local and overseas cases, Chan said that the Umbrella Movement case “far exceeded” the scope of past Hong Kong cases of a similar nature, therefore an immediate prison sentence was appropriate.
When the activists were found guilty on April 9, the judge declared the 79-day occupation unlawful, and said that their political ideals of civil disobedience were no defence.
During the trial last December, the Department of Justice argued that the nine defendants occupied public roads and became an “unreasonable obstruction.” They were also guilty of incitement because they had called on the public to join them, prosecutors added.
The nine defendants responded that the occupation was a form of peaceful civil disobedience and the crowds only joined of their own accord, or because of the police decision to use tear gas to clear protesters.
After the verdict earlier this month, Hong Kong’s last British governor Chris Patten said the verdicts were “appallingly divisive,” as rights NGOs raised concerns about a “chilling effect” and the use of archaic laws to stifle dissent. However, the verdicts were hailed by Beijing’s man in Hong Kong Wang Zhimin as “an important day for demonstrating Hong Kong’s rule of law.”
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.