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Hong Kong should drop 'chilling' prosecution of Umbrella Movement leaders

Trial of nine pro-democracy leaders to start tomorrow

“This prosecution is an act of retaliation aimed at silencing the pro-democracy movement” – Man-kei Tam

The Hong Kong government must drop the politically-motivated prosecution of nine leaders of 2014’s pro-democracy Umbrella Movement protests, Amnesty International said ahead of the start of their trial.

Among the nine activists facing trial at West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts are the co-founders of the “Occupy Central” campaign – legal scholar Professor Benny Tai Yiu-ting, sociologist Professor Chan Kin-man and retired pastor Reverend Chu Yiu-ming – who each face a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment if convicted. Other defendants include student leaders, lawmakers and political party leaders.

Man-kei Tam, Amnesty International’s Hong Kong Director, said:

“This prosecution is an act of retaliation aimed at silencing the pro-democracy movement.

“The charges against all nine activists must be dropped, as the government’s case is based solely on the legitimate exercise of the rights to free speech and peaceful protest.

“The prosecutors are using deliberately vague and ambiguous charges that will have chilling consequences for freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in Hong Kong.”

79 days of protest

In a new 13-page briefing, Amnesty has outlined why the charges against the activists amount to an attack on human rights, and highlights the far-reaching consequences of prosecutions related to the Umbrella Movement protests.

The prosecution of the three ‘Occupy Central’ leaders centres on the planning and implementation of a pro-democracy campaign, including peaceful direct action to block roads in Hong Kong’s Central District. The campaign, which called for the democratic election of the city’s head of government, became part of the large-scale pro-democracy Umbrella Movement protests carried out in an overwhelmingly peaceful manner over 79 days between September and December 2014.

The other six activists being prosecuted are student leaders Tommy Cheung Sau-yin and Eason Chung Yiu-wa, lawmakers Tanya Chan and Shiu Ka-chun, and political leaders Raphael Wong Ho-ming and Lee Wing-tat.

In an unusual move, prosecutors decided to base the charges against all nine individuals on the offence of “public nuisance”, which makes the charges more ambiguous and carries harsher sentences compared to similar available charges.

Prosecutors are using press conferences, media interviews and public meetings in which the pro-democracy leaders discussed their peaceful civil disobedience campaign as key evidence against them.

Videos filmed by police of the nine’s peaceful participation in the first two days of the Umbrella Movement, including directing protesters to different streets outside the government headquarters and urging others through loudspeakers to join the protests, also form central pillars of the prosecution’s case.

Man-kei Tam said:

“If prosecutors are successful, there is a real danger that more and more people will face charges for peaceful activism. The authorities appear intent on trying to silence any debate about sensitive issues in Hong Kong, especially those relating to democracy and autonomy.”

Umbrella Movement

The prosecution is the latest against Umbrella Movement protesters by the Hong Kong government, following the conviction of three student leaders last year. More than four years on from the start of the movement, hundreds of protesters remain in legal limbo, uncertain if the police will proceed with charges against them.

The trial comes amid increasing alarm over the erosion of the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in Hong Kong. Last Thursday, the Financial Times' Asia news editor Victor Mallet was refused entry to the territory. The denial came just a month after the Hong Kong authorities refused to renew his work visa, in what appears to be an act of retaliation after Mallet hosted a talk with a pro-independence activist at the local Foreign Correspondents’ Club in August.

Earlier this month, dissident Chinese artist Badiucao cancelled his first show in Hong Kong citing security threats from Chinese authorities.

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