Hong Kong’s ‘Occupy Central’ activists handed down prison terms

Hong Kong – A Hong Kong court has sentenced four leading activists of the 2014 “Umbrella Movement” pro-democracy protests to up to 16 months in jail.

Another four activists received suspended sentences or community service.

Chan Kin-man, 60, Benny Tai, 54, and Chu Yiu-ming, 75, were handed 16-month sentences on Wednesday, while Raphael Wong and Shiu Ka-chun were awarded eight-month jail terms.

Chu’s sentence was suspended for two years due to a health issue, while Eason Chun and Lee Wing-tat also received suspended eight-month sentences.

Another activist, Tommy Cheung, was ordered to do 200 hours of community service. Sentencing of a ninth activist, Tanya Chan, who was convicted of conspiracy to cause a public nuisance as part of the “Occupy Central” protests, was adjourned. 

Chan’s lawyer requested the adjournment as she faces brain surgery in two weeks.

The 2014 Occupy Central demonstrations, which pushed for full democracy in Hong Kong, blocked roads in three important districts – Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok – and drew more than a million people over nearly three months, organisers estimated. 

Handing down the sentences on Wednesday, District Court judge Johnny Chan said the defendants never expressed regrets for their actions.

The defendants hugged each other in the dock after learning their fate, while Chu shed tears while walking out of the court.

Supporter Tessa Cheung, who carried a yellow banner that read “I want universal suffrage”, covered her face and wiped away tears upon learning of the sentencing.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Cheung, a 28-year-old office worker who took part in the 2014 protests. “Occupy Central was a peaceful protest fighting for a better future for Hong Kong. Why are these people jailed for their good deeds?”

Earlier, as the nine showed up in court, a huge crowd, with people dressed in yellow shirts, chanted “civil disobedience” to show their support. They also raised yellow umbrellas and banners that symbolised the movement. 

Speaking before they walked into a packed court for the sentencing, the movement’s founders said they were prepared to face any legal consequences as they urged supporters to keep fighting for democracy.

“I am still hopeful and peaceful to face whatever may happen today,” Tai said, before the sentencing.

Chan recalled the verdict earlier this month, saying that the group was naive to believe that they could attain democracy by leading the movement.

“What else is more naive than believing in ‘one country, two systems’?” Chan said, referring to Hong Kong’s so-called autonomy given by Beijing.

“But we are the people who believe in it and [have been] defending the system every single day.”

Samson Yuen, an assistant professor at the Hong Kong Lingnan University Department of Political Science, called the sentence a “heavy punishment but is better than expected”.

The maximum penalty is seven years in jail.

“It has a chilling effect even though this is a peaceful movement,” Yuen told Al Jazeera. “[It shows] civil disobedience is still not allowed in Hong Kong.”

Hundreds of people, including many who had come to show support to the activists, had lined up outside the building since dawn to secure a spot inside the court. 

Among them was 68-year-old retired teacher Fung Wai-man, who reached the court at 5.30am – four and a half hours before the hearing.

“What I have done was nothing compared to the nine,” said Fung. “They have pushed for democracy for us, and I just want them to know that we will always be there for them.” 

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