HONG KONG - The founding leaders of Hong Kong’s 2014 democracy protests will stand trial this Monday, nearly four years after the protests came to an end.
Benny Tai, Chan Kin-man and Reverend Chu Yiu-ming face up to seven years in prison when they stand trial on Monday for their role in launching 2014’s democracy protests.
The protests, known as the "Umbrella Movement," saw tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents take to the streets for more than two months in late 2014 to demand the direct election of the city’s chief executive, its top leader.
Now the trio face several charges, including “incitement,” being the first in Hong Kong to call for the occupation of the Central business district in 2013 if changes were not made to elections.
Chan, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said they did not anticipate such strong charges and were now preparing for possible jail time.
“We already prepared for it and understood that there may be serious consequences for our jobs as professors, but we never expected they would have this kind of very peculiar charge, which now can have a maximum penalty of seven years of imprisonment," Chan said.
On Monday, the trio will be joined by six other protest leaders, including two legislators, who will stand trial alongside them on similar charges.
The group has been dubbed the “Umbrella Nine” in the media.
In a written statement, the Justice Department told VOA it could not comment on the charges faced by the group as the case is ongoing.
It also said it does not keep a record of how many people it has prosecuted since the end of the 2014 protests.
However, rights activist Kong Tsung-gan, who tracks the prosecutions on his blog, said 220 protesters associated with the demonstration have been prosecuted, while 78 were convicted.
Among those prosecuted since 2014 is Joshua Wong, who became one of the most recognizable faces of the protest as a teenage leader.
He told VOA he was deeply troubled by the prosecution of leaders like Tai, Chan and Chu, who are longstanding members of Hong Kong’s democracy movement.
“They are the prominent and senior leaders in the democracy movement of Hong Kong," Wong said. "They have fought for democracy even earlier than I was born. So especially Reverend Chu. I am really worried about if the judges lock him up in prison at the age of more than [seventy] years old it will really be trouble.”
Faced with an uncertain future, Chan said he hopes the courts will follow previous rulings that non-violent protest should be respected in Hong Kong.