The trial of three founders of the 2014 Occupy Central movement and six democracy activists began yesterday. All nine, who are facing public nuisance charges, pleaded not guilty. The charges carry a jail term of up to seven years.
The 79-day mass protest centred on Hong Kong's Central district was initiated by the trio who were pushing for the people to be allowed to elect the city's leader, instead of having a leader appointed by a pro-Beijing committee.
The three founders of the movement are law professor Benny Tai, 54, sociology professor Chan Kin Man, 59, and Reverend Chu Yiu Ming. They face three charges: conspiracy to cause public nuisance, inciting others to cause public nuisance, and inciting people to incite others to cause public nuisance.
The six activists are lawmakers Tanya Chan and Shiu Ka Chun, former student leaders Tommy Cheung and Eason Chung, and opposition politicians Raphael Wong and Lee Wing Tat. Except for Lee, who faces one incitement charge, the other five all face two such charges.
Before the hearing, the accused gathered outside West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts where supporters carrying yellow umbrellas and placards called for the charges to be dropped. They also chanted "we want universal suffrage" and "defend Hong Kong's democracy".
In the prosecution's opening address before a packed courtroom, Senior Counsel Andrew Bruce said the Occupy movement was not genuine civil disobedience.
He said the leaders had met several times to plan the unlawful assembly in a calculated manner and even openly voiced their goals. Their unlawful actions were "unreasonable" as they caused severe traffic disruption and affected the rights of other people, he said.
The prosecution, which will call six witnesses and rely on videos taken by police as evidence, said the movement caused the diversion of buses and emergency services such as fire engines and ambulances, delaying response time.
In a statement, the nine said the charges "enable the government to abuse the power of prosecution and infringe on the freedom of speech and peaceful assembly" - the reason for their unanimous decision to fight the case. It added that Tai and Chan Kin Man will testify and "restore the authenticity of history".
The Occupy Central protest was overtaken by the student movement that exploded in September 2014 when police fired tear gas on gathering crowds. The Occupy founders then urged people to join what became known as the Umbrella Movement as protesters used umbrellas to shield themselves from tear gas and pepper spray.
Mr Stephen Chan, 56, who was at the hearing, said: "As a Hong Konger, it's my duty to take note of the city's developments. Hong Kong's integrity, among other things, has declined."
The hearing is expected to last 20 days.