HONG KONG • A Hong Kong court yesterday found nine pro-democracy activists guilty of criminal contempt of court for refusing to leave a protest site during the 2014 Occupy demonstrations that brought major roads in the city to a halt.
The charge relates to a court-ordered injunction to clear a protest camp in the Mong Kok district of the Chinese-ruled financial hub after 79 days of street occupations pushing for full democracy.
Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" formula that promises it a high degree of autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including an independent judiciary.
But a series of court cases against about 100 young pro-democracy activists has shaken confidence in the city's vaunted rule of law and critics fear a watering down of its freedoms and creeping interference by Chinese Communist Party rulers in Beijing.
In a summary of his judgment, Judge Andrew Chan said the nine defendants had refused to leave the site despite repeated warnings from bailiffs.
The activists had "banded together to fight for their beliefs" and their actions "amounted to a serious interference with the administration of justice", he wrote.
"Having considered all the evidence, the court is satisfied that they are guilty of criminal contempt... This case is not about the right or wrong of the Occupy movement."
Jailed pro-democracy leader Joshua Wong, who spearheaded the 2014 protests and also faced the same charge, was present in court yesterday. He and 10 others have already "admitted liability" in defying the court injunction.
Supporters of the bespectacled Wong sang him a birthday song in the courtroom to mark his 21st birthday. "Thank you... Let's keep going," shouted Wong, who is serving a six-month term on a separate charge of unlawful assembly.
No date was given for sentencing, with all defendants facing possible jail terms. There is no maximum penalty for contempt of court, a defence lawyer said.