The 12 students who walked to court with tear gas conviction will appeal, organizers say

By Bob Dietz, Tom Coyne and David Nakamura After a 3½-month trial, a Hong Kong court on Friday convicted 12 pro-democracy activists, including Joshua Wong, over the legality of their role in an unofficial…

The 12 students who walked to court with tear gas conviction will appeal, organizers say

By Bob Dietz, Tom Coyne and David Nakamura

After a 3½-month trial, a Hong Kong court on Friday convicted 12 pro-democracy activists, including Joshua Wong, over the legality of their role in an unofficial march on June 4, 2015 to mark the anniversary of China’s bloody crackdown on democracy protesters.

The march was held weeks after Beijing had ruled out holding elections for Hong Kong’s chief executive, whose office is largely chosen by China’s leaders, in 2017.

The trial has focused global attention on one of the largest political unrests in Hong Kong in recent memory, challenging public relations and national security arrangements that have governed the semi-autonomous city since Britain handed over control of it in 1997.

The court found Wong, a student activist who became one of the leaders of the 2014 Umbrella Movement, guilty of participating in the unauthorized public gathering. Supporters rallied around him Friday, shouting “Free Joshua!” before the verdict was announced. Wong said he planned to appeal against the verdict.

A pair of officers identified as Westminster Constables Tiziano Etchegaray and Kiran Moss found Wong guilty of “attempting to commit a crime of sedition and participation in an illegal assembly.” Etchegaray was also convicted of a charge of incitement.

Wong, 20, was also convicted of publishing a flyer urging the public to participate in a march that questioned Beijing’s 2013 interpretation of the city’s mini-constitution, known as the Basic Law. He was acquitted of a charge of possessing illegal weapons.

The court sentenced Wong to a fine of about $1,000 and 15 days in jail. No jail time was given to any of the others found guilty.

Each of the convictions carries a maximum penalty of six months imprisonment and $1,000 in fines. The court said it had no right to impose jail time for Wong’s convictions.

Sitting on the floor in the defendants’ area of the court hall, several of the defendants after the verdict raised their fists in celebration.

Wong’s supporters broke into tears and shouted “It’s not over!” before breaking into an extended rendition of a patriotic Chinese song that celebrates the Chinese Communist Party’s founder, Mao Zedong.

The verdict from Judge Arthur Ho confirmed the theme of the trial and three days of often heated emotional testimony from the 17 defendants, who each spent weeks in detention after the assembly.

Those with higher profiles represented by better lawyers, including advocates for democracy, criticized the process and accused authorities of stifling dissent. But Wong, Eu and Ng Hock Soon, another prominent student leader, sat on the floor and listened in silence to the judgment.

When they pleaded guilty to the charges in July, Wong said, “Every single person we took part in this trial is being denied the most basic human rights.”

On Friday, after the verdict was read, Wong said, “The government in Hong Kong is not listening to us.”

His mother, Jackie, hung her head.

When she had left court earlier in the day, she had said her son had been sentenced too harshly.

“I’m just shocked at the results of the trial,” she said. “I hope people will not consider this to be the end of it.”

Opponents of the Hong Kong government, the pro-establishment camp, and pro-democracy activists used to call “June 4” a “provocation” and a “ruse.” They saw it as a move to grab more of Hong Kong’s wealth and more of its autonomy from China.

Police arrested 31 of the 48 organizers of the demonstration, or 95 percent of those who turned up for the event. They detained another 13 during a later vote, due to concerns over organizing an illegal event, the judge said.

Since then, scores of human rights activists and journalists have also been detained.

Meanwhile, the defendants in court Friday said they would appeal the verdicts to the top court in Hong Kong, the Court of Final Appeal. The court will hold a hearing in October and is likely to rule by November, Justice Ho said.

Ho said both sides “will have to respect the appeal process.” He said he was convinced that the court would give “an objective and fair hearing.”

The protesters allege that police had knowingly organized an illegal assembly, an offense under Hong Kong’s Criminal Procedure Code.

“There’s a better and faster way to handle some of these issues than through a criminal trial,” Wong told reporters outside the court.

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