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Hong Kong Democracy Advocates Face Charges Over 2014 Protests

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The pro-democracy leaders Chan Kin-man, second from left, Benny Tai, second from right, and Chu Yiu-ming, right, at a rally in Hong Kong in 2015. It was unclear why the police waited so long to bring charges. Credit Philippe Lopez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

HONG KONG — Several organizers of the 2014 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong said they were notifed by the police on Monday that they would face criminal charges, raising concerns over a broader crackdown more than two years after the demonstrations for freer elections swept the semiautonomous Chinese territory.

The authorities will charge the three early masterminds of the 2014 protests and six other participants, including current and former legislators and two student leaders, according to three of the protesters.

“The charges send a strong message that the authorities are going to create more conflict in the community, that they will continue a hard-line approach,” said Chan Kin-man, a sociology professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and one of the three founders of the protest group Occupy Central With Love and Peace.

Mr. Chan said the police telephoned on Monday morning to tell him that he would face one public nuisance charge and two incitement charges. Eason Chung, who was a leader of the Hong Kong Federation of Students and another organizer of the protests, said he would also face a public nuisance charge. The nuisance charge carries a maximum jail sentence of seven years.

The police did not immediately confirm the charges. Normally, they do so only after suspects are brought in to hear the charges in person.

It was unclear why the police waited so long to bring charges, but Mr. Chan said that the current Hong Kong government, led by the unpopular chief executive Leung Chung-ying, had waited until Beijing’s preferred candidate, Carrie Lam, was selected to succeed him. Bringing charges earlier might have hurt her campaign, he said, because she was a loyal deputy to Mr. Leung.

Over 900 people were arrested during the protests in 2014, also known as the Umbrella Revolution. Among them, 81 have been convicted of various offenses as of January, according to the Hong Kong Department of Justice.

The charges came one day after a pro-Beijing committee chose Mrs. Lam, who in 2014 had tried but failed to defuse the protests in a televised debate with student representatives, including Mr. Chung. The protests paralyzed multiple parts of the city for nearly three months.

“This is clearly an act of political revenge,” said Raphael Wong, vice chairman of a pro-democracy party, the League of Social Democrats, who also faces a public nuisance charge. “We’re not afraid, and we will fight on for a genuine universal suffrage.”

Mrs. Lam, who vowed after the vote on Sunday to mend the divisions in Hong Kong society, said on Monday that she did not know about and was not responsible for the prosecutions. But she added: “Mending social rifts doesn’t mean compromising on rule of law.”

In 2014 and 2015, Mrs. Lam led a task force to push through a Beijing-backed proposal to enable the direct popular election of the city’s leader but with strict limitations on the choice of candidates. Protesters argued that such a system would only bolster Beijing’s grip on the former British colony by giving the chief executive undeserved legitimacy.

The charges would be the first against the three founders of the Occupy Central campaign, which later joined forces with student protesters who were engaged in a weeklong boycott of classes. The three Occupy leaders, Mr. Chan, Benny Tai and Chu Yiu-ming, turned themselves in to the police two months into the protests but had not been charged with any crime until Monday.

Reports of the charges have been celebrated by pro-Beijing groups as overdue justice, but they risk raising tensions in a city where young political leaders are already planning another large demonstration in a few months. The protests will be timed with the expected visit of President Xi Jinping of China on July 1, the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule, according to Joshua Wong, the secretary general of Demisisto, as part of a response to Mrs. Lam’s election.

“Lam’s victory, despite her lack of representation and popular support, reflects the Chinese Communist Party’s complete control over Hong Kong’s electoral process and its serious intrusion of Hong Kong’s autonomy,” the party said in a statement on Sunday. “It is our hope that those who have previously fought, and continue to fight, for fair political representation in Hong Kong will not lose momentum over the next half-decade as a consequence.”

Mr. Wong and two other student protest leaders, Nathan Law and Alex Chow, were previously found guilty of unlawful assembly or inciting people to take part in an unlawful assembly preceding the 79 days of street occupation in 2014.

Source: NYT > World

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