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

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.

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.