Protest organiser Tai gets 16 months on charges he conspired to commit public nuisance
HONG KONG • A Hong Kong court sentenced Occupy protest organiser Benny Tai to 16 months in prison on charges that he conspired to commit public nuisance, capping the China-backed government’s push to punish leaders of 2014’s mass pro-democracy demonstrations.
Tai, 54, an associate law professor at the University of Hong Kong, was ordered to begin serving his time immediately by District Court Judge Johnny Chan in West Kowloon. Tai was also given a concurrent sentence of eight months on a charge of inciting public nuisance.
The judge earlier this month found Tai and other organisers guilty of various crimes.
The movement’s two other main leaders — Chan Kinman, 60, a retired associate professor of sociology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; and Reverend Chu Yiuming, 75 — were also handed
16-month prison terms, with Chu’s suspended for two years. The charges of public nuisance carry a maximum penalty of seven year’s imprisonment and a fine under a common law provision held over from Hong Kong’s time as a British colony.
Tai said ahead of the court session that he felt “peaceful and hopeful to face whatever may happen”.
The three men were among nine academics, activists and politicians convicted for their roles in organising the protests, which lasted 79 days and brought parts of the Asian financial hub to a halt. Sentences varied for the remainder of the group.
“Thank you for the sentencing,” Raphael Wong, vice chairman of the League of Social Democrats, told the judge after receiving an eight-month jail term. “Our determination to fight for democracy will not cease.”
Hong Kong has pursued the prosecution of those who encouraged the demonstrations, which sought the public nomination of candidates for what was supposed to be the first direct election of the city’s leader.
The protests shone a spotlight on Chinese efforts to clamp down on democracy activists in the former British colony, with the demonstrations of mostly students dubbed the “Umbrella Movement” after they used umbrellas to shield themselves from pepper spray fired by police. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said before leaving for events in Beijing on Wednesday that she wouldn’t comment on the sentencing. “We cherish the spirit of the rule of law in Hong Kong,” she told reporters.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang called the sentencing an “internal matter” at a briefing in Beijing.
An eight-month jail term for Shiu Ka-chun — a social worker and activist turned Hong Kong lawmaker — could disqualify him from sitting on the city’s Legislative Council.
The youngest defendant, 25-year-old Tommy Cheung Sau-yin, was sentenced to 200 hours of community service.
The sentencing of another lawmaker and activist, Tanya Chan, was adjourned to June 10 due to medical reasons and she was freed on bail. — Bloomberg