A prominent group of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists were handed sentences of up to 16 months in prison on Wednesday for their role in the “umbrella movement” rallies in 2014.
A district court judge sentenced law professor Benny Tai, 54, retired sociology professor Chan Kin-man, 60, and retired pastor Chu Yiu-ming, 75, to 16 months each for a range of public nuisance offenses. Chu’s sentence was suspended for two years meaning that he is unlikely to serve time in prison. Tai and Chan will begin their sentences immediately.
The men were founders of “Occupy Central with Love and Peace,” a non-violent social movement that demanded free and open elections in the semi-autonomous Chinese enclave.
They were among nine pro-democracy campaigners convicted over their involvement in ensuing demonstrations that saw more than 100,000 protestors immobilize the city’s financial district for 79-days. The demonstrations became known as the “umbrella movement” owing to protesters’ use of bright umbrellas to shield themselves from tear gas fired by police.
Activist Raphael Wong and lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun were both sentenced to eight months. While activist Chung Yiu-wa and former lawmaker Lee Wing-tat were both sentenced to eight months, suspended for two years. Tommy Cheung Sau-yin was given a community service order of 200 hours.
Lawmaker Tanya Chan’s sentencing was delayed to June due to poor health.
The group 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.
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.”
A number of supporters gathered outside the court on Wednesday, many wearing yellow, the color of the protest.
In a statement, Amnesty International demanded that the protesters be immediately and unconditionally released.
“Today’s appalling jail sentences against four pro-democracy activists are an affront to justice and the human rights to peaceful protest and freedom of expression,” said Tam Man-kei, Director of Amnesty International Hong Kong.
“The long sentences sends a chilling warning to all that there will be serious consequences for advocating for democracy,” said Maya Wang, Senior Researcher on China at the Human Rights Watch.
“The Umbrella 9 did nothing but peacefully press the Hong Kong government to fulfill its obligation to deliver genuine democracy to people in the territory.”