Hong Kong courts found nine leaders of the ‘Umbrella Democracy Movement’ guilty Tuesday of conspiracy to cause public nuisance and inciting others to cause public nuisance. The ruling came after 80,000 people descended on Hong Kong’s Central district in 2014 putting the city into gridlock for 79 days in protest of their inability to freely elect their own chief executive. Judge Johnny Chan, who presided over the case, called the leaders of the protest “naïve” to think the protests would change how the chief executive would be appointed, and adjourned the hearings until April 24 when sentencing will be handed down. The nine found guilty include a variety of people from different backgrounds and ages, ranging from a 75-year-old clergyman to a 24-year-old student leader.
The catalyst of the 2014 protest was a resolution by Beijing to establish a “broadly representative” panel to review contenders for the 2017 chief executive election. The resolution stated that the panel would closely reflect in size and ideals the 1,200-member election committee that would eventually vote to determine the new chief executive of Hong Kong. The election committee members, despite consisting of Hong Kong residents from a variety of different sectors and subsectors of the economy, often favour pro-Beijing candidates. As a result, Hong Kong democracy activists argue that letting the election committee select who reviews chief executive candidates taints the process in favour of Beijing-approved candidates. Democracy activists are also upset over delays in the promised expansion of universal suffrage, which would allow the people of Hong Kong more to choose from a wider pool of candidates, including those they feel would better represent Hong Kong’s interests.
Beijing has defended the decision of the NPCSC, arguing that the new guidelines to nominate candidates “protect the broad stability of Hong Kong now and in the future.” Beijing also called the 2014 pro-democracy movement a farce. It alleges a “confused and lopsided” understanding of the ‘One Country Two Systems’ model, as the autonomy granted to Hong Kong is not “full autonomy but a high degree of autonomy.” The One Country Two Systems model is a result of the U.K.’s handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, during which China guaranteed Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy until the year 2047. Beijing, through Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang, has mentioned that the Chinese government fully supports the Hong Kong court’s punishment of the leaders.