HONG KONG, March 30 (Reuters) - Nine leaders of Hong Kong's
2014 democracy protests appeared in court on Thursday after
their surprise summons, charged with inciting the street
occupation that paralysed parts of the city for months in what
some expect to be a long legal battle.
The nine were charged on Monday, just a day after a new
Beijing-backed leader, Carrie Lam, was chosen as the city's next
leader, seen by many as a worrying sign after she had vowed to
heal divisions in the Chinese-ruled city and unite society
The protest leaders, including the "Occupy Central trio" of
Benny Tai, Chan Kin-man and Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, entered the
magistrates' court smiling and shaking hands with a few dozen
supporters, some holding yellow umbrellas, the symbol of the
2014 civil disobedience movement.
The "Occupy Central trio" each face charges including
conspiracy to commit public nuisance and inciting others to
commit public nuisance.
Six others, including two legislators and two former student
protest leaders, were also charged with crimes related to public
The nine told the court they understood the charges, but the
hearing was largely procedural and didn't require them to enter
The case was adjourned until May 25.
Veteran pro-democracy politician and barrister Martin Lee,
representing five of the defendants, requested the case be
transferred to the high court instead of the district court, so
that the nine could be tried by a jury.
"After all, the allegations are of a public nature," Lee
The judge says it was up to the prosecution to decide which
court tries the case.
Outside the court, about a dozen pro-China protesters jeered
at the protest leaders, cursing them in colourful Cantonese to
get stabbed, while slapping photos of them with flip-flops.
The charges carry a maximum sentence of seven years, Tai
said, adding the activists might plead guilty, in the spirit of
The former British colony, governed under a "one country,
two systems" formula, was promised a high degree of autonomy and
the right to select its chief executive when it was handed back
to Communist Chinese rule in 1997.
Twenty years later, only 1,200 people on an "election
committee" stacked with Beijing loyalists voted Lam into power.
(Reporting by Venus Wu; Editing by James Pomfret and Nick