Emotional testimony from one of the founders of Hong Kong’s 2014 Occupy protests brought a trial to a standstill on Tuesday.
Sociologist Dr Chan Kin-man tearfully talked about his last days in the movement at West Kowloon Court, where nine leaders were on trial for a litany of public nuisance charges over the 79-day pro-democracy protest.
Chan’s emotional outburst prompted Judge Johnny Chan Jong-herng to break for a short adjournment.
Chan said he and his two co-founders – Benny Tai Yiu-ting and Reverend Chu Yiu-ming – had decided to call it a day publicly after what started as a peaceful sit-in became a confrontation with police within two months.
The turning point, he said, was on November 30, when student leaders, also a driving force at the time, escalated the movement. A failed dialogue between the government and the students had led the latter to believe any more talks would be meaningless.
Chan, Tai and Chu met the press and announced their surrender to police on December 3.
“We understood[the students] were angry and frustrated,” Chan said, his voice beginning to break.
He said the escalation meant protesters resorted to wearing helmets and protective gear in defiance of a violent crackdown by police, but the new attire could lead to a loss of public sympathy.
“We didn’t want to see more people get injured,” Chan added, tearfully.
“We would rather break with the students publicly so the movement could end,” he said, wrapping up his testimony that began last Thursday.
The sentimental courtroom drama was triggered by Director of Public Prosecutions David Leung Cheuk-yin SC, who asked Chan during cross-examination why the founders needed to wait until December to end the movement, even though Chan had been claiming in his defence case that they only intended the movement to last for days following the commencement on September 28.
The three, Chan, 59, Tai, 54, and Chu, 74, embraced after Chan returned to the dock.
The three have pleaded not guilty to three joint charges: conspiracy to cause public nuisance; inciting others to cause public nuisance; and inciting others to incite others to cause public nuisance.
Lawmakers Shiu Ka-chun, 49, and Tanya Chan, 47, and student leaders Tommy Cheung Sau-yin, 24, and Eason Chung Yiu-wa, 26, have all denied the two incitement charges. So has Raphael Wong Ho-ming, 30, vice-chairman of the League of Social Democrats.
Former Democratic Party Lawmaker Lee Wing-tat, 63, has denied one count of incitement to commit public nuisance.
Prosecutors said the defendants incited others to block roads during what later became known as the umbrella movement in 2014, to force the government to respond to their political demands. Like other protesters, they were upset about a restrictive proposal Beijing had handed down for the city’s chief executive race.
But, when in the witness box, Chan spoke of the little control the founders had, saying that he and Tai had stopped lingering at the Occupy sites – a gesture of them fading out – from October 28.
On Tuesday, he described his feeling as “disheartened” when he felt at the time that students were no longer listening to their advice.
“I knew that, that day, we would have to part ways with the campaign,” he said of his premonition which later came true.
He said that while the leaders wanted more dialogue with the government – or to withdraw – the students wanted neither of those, a stalemate that eventually led to the escalation.
In reply to Leung, Chan said they understood what the students wanted in the beginning so they did not pull out immediately, until the escalation in November.
The trial continues before Judge Chan on Wednesday.