A Hong Kong court has found three prominent activists guilty for leading mass pro-democracy protests that brought parts of the city to a standstill in 2014.
Benny Tai, Chan Kin-man and Reverend Chu Yiu-ming were among nine defendants found guilty of a range of public nuisance offenses on Tuesday. Lawmaker Tanya Chan was also found guilty of “incitement to commit public nuisance.”
Sentencing will take place later, with the defendants facing up to seven years in prison on each charge.
Tai, along with Chan and Chu, was the mastermind of Occupy Central with Love and Peace, a proposed civil disobedience action calling for free elections. The action evolved – amid tear gas and outrage – into the much larger Umbrella Movement, featuring more than 100,000 protesters over 79 days.
Tai has long said that he would be willing to go to prison, pointing to sentences already served by younger opposition figures such as Joshua Wong.
“If this is the cup I must take, I will drink with no regret,” he said in a hearing late last year.
“The purpose of civil disobedience is not to obstruct the public, but to arouse public concern to the injustice in society and to win sympathy from the public … I am not afraid or ashamed of going to prison. If we were to be guilty, we will be guilty for daring to share hope at this difficult time in Hong Kong.”
Tai appears likely to join a list of more than a dozen other protest leaders and pro-democracy politicians jailed since 2014 in court cases that have dragged on for years, sapping the city’s opposition movement of energy and dampening both public and media attention.
Maya Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch, blasted Tuesday’s ruling, saying the court had sent “a terrible message that will likely embolden the government to prosecute more peaceful activists, further chilling free expression in Hong Kong.”