Hong Kong democracy activists charged hours after election of new city leader

Nine activists to be prosecuted for street protests two years ago despite Carrie Lam pledging her election would heal divisions in society

Hong Kong police have started a crackdown on pro-democracy lawmakers and activists, informing at least nine people they will be charged for their involvement in a series of street protests more than two years ago.

The charges come a day after Carrie Lam was elected to be the city’s chief executive. Heavily backed by the Chinese government, she has promised to heal divisions in an increasingly polarised political climate; pro-Beijing elites and businesses have repeatedly clashed with grassroots movements demanding more democracy.

For nearly three months in 2014, protesters surrounded the main government offices and blocked roads in the heart of Hong Kong’s financial district. While several high-profile cases were brought in the months after, the vast majority of protesters were not charged.

On Monday the government announced it would prosecute two politicians, Tanya Chan and Shiu Ka-chun. The others charged are former student protest leaders Eason Chung and Tommy Cheung, and the founders of the Occupy Central movement, Benny Tai, Rev Chu Yiu-ming and Chan Kin-man. Activist Raphael Wong and former legislator Lee Wing-tat will also be charged.

“This isn’t just my case being prosecuted, it’s prosecution against Hong Kong’s democracy,” Chan said in an interview. “Lam said her first job would be to reunite Hong Kong people and this will make that task much more difficult.”

All nine surrendered to police on Monday, with activists rallying around them in support.

The current chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, has taken unprecedented steps in recent months to remove pro-democracy politicians from office. Two were barred from taking their seats last year, and the government has launched legal challenges against four other legislators.

“I feel very sad, the government hasn’t tried to to heal the wounds in society,” Shiu said just before turning himself in to police. “I respect the law, but the timing is very deliberate.”

Supporters from Hong Kong’s pro-democracy political parties and organisations rallied around the accused, some holding signs reading “the revolt is justified, protesting is not a crime”.

Several hundred gathered outside Hong Kong police headquarters and chanted calls for full democracy. Activists said the prosecutions and Lam’s election had reinvigorated the pro-democracy camp.

If Chan or Shiu are jailed for more than a month, they could lose their seats in the legislative council. The charge of creating a public nuisance carries a maximum penalty of seven years in jail.

“Leung is trying to change the result of the legislative election through the courts,” Chan said. “This is a well planned and well designed action, the timing is very critical.”

Shiu echoed concerns that the prosecutions could be an attempt to eject himself and Chan from the legislature.

Lam said she did not know about the arrests in advance.

“I made it very clear that I want to unite society and bridge the divide that has been causing us concern,” Lam said at a press conference. “But all these actions should not compromise the rule of law in Hong Kong.”

The protests that led to the charges were sparked by the Chinese government’s decision to vet candidates for the chief executive. Beijing’s reform package was voted down, and only 1,194 or 0.03% of registered voters could cast a ballot in Sunday’s election.

Lam met student leaders of the pro-democracy protests in 2014, and ended up taking a hard line against concessions on the political reform offered by Beijing.

It is unclear why the government waited more than two years to prosecute the protesters and the police did not respond to multiple requests seeking comment.


Benjamin Haas in Hong Kong

The GuardianTramp

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