Former student leader Tommy Cheung has made a last-minute call for the public to submit letters to the court on his behalf – a decision he arrived at after much internal conflict, he said.

Cheung was among nine leading Umbrella Movement activists that were convicted of public nuisance charges earlier this month. The nine will be sentenced on Wednesday morning and each face maximum jail sentences of seven years.

The 2014 movement was the largest pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong’s history, and – at the time – Cheung participated as a leader of the Hong Kong Federation of Students.

Tommy Cheung. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

After hearing arguments from defence lawyers on April 9, judge Johnny Chan postponed sentencing to seek eligibility reports on Cheung – a preliminary step that the court can take before issuing a community service order.

Interview: Unrepentant Umbrella Movement activist Tommy Cheung says people know what was right and wrong

Around 30 hours ahead of his court appearance, Cheung asked his friends through Facebook to submit letters on two topics: their views on his character, and their views on the Umbrella Movement. He made another post a day later broadening the appeal to cover the general public.

“The probation officer wanted the people around me to provide character evidence. Following his persuasion, I felt the only thing to do is to ask everyone for letters publicly, to explain to the judge how people viewed the occupation and why they joined,” he wrote.

“I think joining this movement was the best character evidence.”

The nine activists convicted for charges related to the 2014 Umbrella Movement. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

Cheung said that he felt immense pressure over the past two weeks, as he may be the only one among the nine who could potentially dodge jail time. He was initially reluctant to ask for public support because he was afraid of accusations of “surrendering,” he added.

See also: ‘I remain true to my original intention’ – Tommy Cheung’s Umbrella Movement speech ahead of sentencing

“In the beginning, we spoke about civil disobedience without fear… applying for these reports, or asking the public to write letters – these felt like acts of cowardice,” he wrote.

“If I go to jail I lose, because prison is miserable. If I don’t go to jail I also lose, because now I can’t come down from this pedestal.”

The deadline for collecting letters was set for Wednesday 2am, mere hours before the nine activists would be sentenced.

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Holmes Chan

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.