A court in Hong Kong has found 20 democracy activists guilty of contempt of court after they ignored a court injunction to leave a protest area during the 2014 Occupy Central, or Umbrella movement, with some expecting to be sent to jail "in the near future."
Nine were found guilty on Friday, while 11 of the activists, who include jailed student leader Joshua Wong, 21, had pleaded guilty in an earlier hearing to obstructing bailiffs trying to implement the clearance of the protest site in the Kowloon suburb of Mong Kok.
Groups of supporters stood outside the court buildings on Friday shouting: "Citizens, resist! Have no fear!"
According to Judge Andrew Chan, anyone who decided to stand on Nathan Road, Mong Kok, during the clearance operation "knew precisely what they were doing," because it wasn't the first such action, and had been widely publicized.
Protesters were also given several warnings to leave the site by bailiffs before the operation began, calling their continued presence there "a serious interference with the administration of justice."
Sentencing has yet to be passed.
Some supporters in the courtroom started singing Happy Birthday to Joshua Wong, who turned 21 on Friday.
Wong, who is currently serving a six-month jail term for occupying the closed-off Civic Square early in the 79-day protests, smiled and said "Thank you" from his seat in the dock.
Former student leaders Nathan Law and Alex Chow are also serving prison sentences after the government requested a review of their community service sentences.
Ready for prison
Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) deputy leader Lester Shum told journalists ahead of the hearing that he is mentally prepared to be sent to prison, too.
"I think I am psychologically prepared for a prison sentence," he said. "That would be within our expectations, but I don't think the sentences will be harsher than [those handed down to Wong, Law and Chow]."
"So, I'm worried, but not too worried," he said. "I think there is a considerable likelihood of being jailed in the near future."
Former Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan called on the court not to jail the activists, however.
"My personal feeling is that these cases are slightly less serious that the previous ones, and I hope that it won't go as far as their imprisonment," Wan told RFA. "If it does, I will be very worried that this would set a precedent for all protesters to be treated as examples, regardless of the seriousness of the charges."
"If that happens, this will have a terrible impact on young people, on the whole of society, and on Hong Kong's international image," he said.
Labour Party lawmaker Fernando Cheung said the protesters are being targeted for political reasons, however.
"When they were clearing the area, none of the 20 defendants offered any kind of violent resistance, and yet they were detained for no good reason by the authorities afterwards," Cheung said. "I don't know if this means that still more people are going to jail."
"We see the Umbrella movement very clearly for what it was: a political event."
Erosion of Hong Kong freedoms
The erosion of Hong Kong's traditional freedoms of speech, publication, and judicial independence in recent years and a stalled timetable for full democracy in spite of the 2014 protest has coincided with growing talk of independence, and a renewed backlash from Beijing, where officials see the subject as anathema.
Some 40 percent of young people support the idea, compared with around 70 percent who oppose it across all age groups, according to recent opinion polls.
Earlier this week, a group of Hong Kong soccer fans booed the Chinese national anthem and held up pro-independence banners ahead of an Asian Cup match at home against Malaysia, prompting state media controlled by the ruling Chinese Communist Party to slam the behavior as "provocative."
"Some young fans turned their backs, booed and even raised middle fingers when the anthem was played," the Global Times newspaper reported. "Some held banners calling for Hong Kong independence in defiance of security guards' attempts at persuasion."
The paper called for an Oct. 1 mainland Chinese law that criminalizes disrespect for the national anthem to be enacted in the former British colony.
"This situation must be dealt with," the paper said in an opinion column. "We believe people who jeer the national anthem will sooner or later be punished by law."
The Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) has repeatedly asked fans not to boo the anthem. Hong Kong has been fined twice by world football's governing body Fifa for similar infractions in the past.
Desecrating the national and regional flags is already offense in Hong Kong, with a maximum penalty of a H.K.$50,000 (U.S.$6,400) and three years in prison.
Last week, Hong Kong lawmaker Cheng Chung-tai was found guilty by a district court of desecrating the national and regional flags and fined H.K.$5,000 (U.S.$641).
Cheng was found guilty of turning the national and regional flags in the Legislative Council chamber upside down on Oct. 19, 2016.
Reported by Wen Yuqing and Lam Kwok-lap for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.