Hong Kong protest leaders say they face criminal charges after new leader chosen

PHOTO: Reuters

HONG KONG - Hong Kong protest leaders said on Monday that police intend to charge at least nine activists, including students and academics, who helped organise or lead Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests in 2014.

News of the move to charge the activists comes a day after a new Beijing-backed city leader was chosen to run the Asian financial hub and vowed to unify a divided Hong Kong.

The "Umbrella Movement" street occupations in late 2014 called for genuine democracy in the former British colony, and paralysed key roads for 79 days.

Sociology professor Chan Kin-man, one of the core protest leaders, said Hong Kong police told him he would be charged with three crimes, including participating and inciting others to participate in "public nuisance".

"I am already mentally prepared for this, but I am very worried about Hong Kong's future," Chan told Reuters.

It wasn't immediately clear why authorities waited so long to pursue these charges. The police have not yet responded to a Reuters' request for comment.

Carrie Lam elected Hong Kong chief executive

  • Beijing favourite Carrie Lam was selected as Hong Kong's new leader by a mainly pro-China committee,
  • in an election dismissed as a sham by democracy activists who fear the loss of the city's cherished freedoms.
  • It is the first leadership vote since mass Umbrella Movement rallies calling for free elections in 2014 failed to win reforms, and it comes after a turbulent term under outgoing chief executive Leung ChunYing.
  • An emotional Ms Lam bowed to supporters as it was announced she had won comprehensively with 777 votes against 365 for her more moderate establishment rival John Tsang.
  • "The work of uniting our society to move forward begins now," Ms Lam said in a speech, vowing to lead Hong Kong forward in solidarity.
  • Ms Lam, who was widely seen as Beijing's pick for the job, will become Hong Kong's first woman chief executive.
  • She is intensely disliked by the pro-democracy camp after promoting the Beijing-backed reform package that sparked 2014's massive protests.
  • Hundreds of protesters gathered near the voting venue, chanting: "Oppose central authority appointment, we choose our own government!"
  • Ms Lam said she will try to build consensus by focusing on social issues, including poverty and housing.

The move on the prominent civil society leaders came just a day after a largely pro-Beijing committee of about 1,200 people picked Carrie Lam, a career civil servant, as the next leader of the city of 7.3 million people.

Lam told reporters as the new leader-elect she would seek to unify Hong Kong, but would not intervene with prosecutions that were being carried out by the current administration of incumbent leader Leung Chun-ying.

"I made it very clear that I want to unite society and bridge the divide that has been causing us concern, but all these actions should not compromise the rule of law in Hong Kong, and also the independent prosecution process," said Lam, who will take office on July 1.

Leading pro-democracy activists Chan Kin-man, Benny Tai Yiu-ting and Chu Yiu-mingFile photo: AFP

Chan, however, disputed this. "The message is strong. Carrie Lam said she wanted to mend the society, but the message we got today is prosecution. I don't see how the society's cracks can be mended," Chan told Reuters.

A lawmaker, Tanya Chan, said at least nine protest leaders received calls from the police notifying them of their charges.

Another protest leader, University of Hong Kong law professor, Benny Tai, confirmed to Reuters by text he had been contacted by the police.

The city's youngest legislator who was also a core protest leader in 2014, Nathan Law, also said two former student leaders received charges related to public nuisance.

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