Nine activists in Hong Kong have been convicted on public nuisance charges stemming from their roles in pro-democracy rallies in 2014; they now face up to seven years in prison.
At the time, thousands of protesters poured into Hong Kong streets in a months-long push to urge the government to elect new leaders more democratically. This became known as the Umbrella Movement, named for the umbrellas the protesters used to protect themselves against pepper spray.
According to the New York Times, those tried included Chu Yiu-ming, a retired pastor, and two professors, Benny Tai and Chan Kin-man. All three were convicted of conspiracy to commit public nuisance, while Tai and Chan were also convicted of incitement to commit public nuisance.
Human rights groups have asserted that the prosecution was meant to have a chilling effect on free speech in Hong Kong. “If prosecutors are successful, there is a real danger that more and more people will face charges for peaceful activism, Man-kei Tam, Amnesty’s Hong Kong director, told The Guardian. The authorities appear intent on trying to silence any debate about sensitive issues in Hong Kong, especially those relating to democracy and autonomy.”
Hong Kong has been under Chinese rule since 1997, though it maintains its own local government and legal system. Still, the central government keeps tight control over possible nominees for chief executive.