efe-epaMar Sanchez-Cascado Hong Kong

Citing the scriptures and demanding justice in the name of God, Reverend Chu Yiu-ming turned a Hong Kong court into his pulpit after he and eight other activists were convicted over the pro-democracy Umbrella Revolution.

In court, Chu said that they were striving for democracy, for freedom and equality.

He added that political freedom means much more that loyalty to the State and human rights is a gift of God which cannot be taken away by any political regime.

Chu and other activists are awaiting sentencing, which is to take place on Wednesday, after being convicted on Apr.9 of conspiracy to cause public nuisance and incitement to commit public nuisance through their participation in the Occupy Movement and Umbrella Revolution protests.

Along with thousands of people in Hong Kong, Chu and the other eight activists protested for more than two months in 2014 in response to an electoral law reform by Beijing and demanded more democratic freedom, including unrestricted universal suffrage for Hong Kong.

Kenneth Chan, former Hong Kong lawmaker and professor at the University of Hong Kong, who participated in the protests, said that, "to ask the court to criminalize the nine (and indeed all those involved by extension) is another admission of political incompetence of the Beijing-appointed government of Hong Kong and their political masters."

"The judicial system is used to compensate for the political elite's depleted source of authority and to allow them to further cover up their failures," Chan told EFE, adding that, "What is on trial is the OCLP (Occupy Central with Love and Peace)/the Umbrella Movement, which was a non-violent political movement demanding genuine universal suffrage for Hong Kong."

The student leader of the protest, Joshua Wong, who became the face of the movement and was sentenced to six months in prison in 2017, told EFE that the protest was not in vain: "Although we have not been able to get the universal suffrage and free elections, it will become a legacy for the community of Hong Kong."

In his opinion, this verdict and the sentence that is to follow, are, "a mirror of how politicians use the courts to oppress the activists." He said they "would not dissuade the group from continuing their fight for the political reform and self-determination in Hong Kong."

Whatever the sentence, Wong and others want to continue with the mobilizations, which in this case also include their opposition to the controversial extradition law that would allow the transfer of "fugitives" to any jurisdiction with which Hong Kong has an extradition agreement, including China.

It created fear in the former British colony and people demanded the exclusion of mainland China from the proposed extradition mechanism as doubts over the independence of the Chinese judicial system remained strong.

The director of the Central Government's Liaison Office in Hong Kong, Wang Zhimin, believes that the verdicts conform with the law and added that many people consider it to be a victory for Hong Kong, for the law and after 1,654 days there was finally a fair verdict.

However, the activists from Hong Kong are not alone in their demands. Several international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have criticized Beijing and Hong Kong directly over the convictions and have even appealed for them to be overturned.

"Hong Kong courts, by labeling peaceful protests in pursuit of rights as public nuisance, are sending a terrible message that will likely embolden the government to prosecute more peaceful activists, further chilling free expression in Hong Kong," Maya Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch, said after the latest court hearing.

Several analysts believe that in the last five years, Beijing has extended its control over Hong Kong while the fear over its autonomy increases, guided by the "One Country, Two Systems" principle, that should guarantee a democracy in the city until its integration into China, which is set for 2047.

The protests in 2014 lasted for more than two months and ended with the arrests of hundreds of demonstrators.

The nine leading activists are awaiting sentencing on Wednesday at a hearing that could see them jailed for up to seven years.

msc/sk/ses