Nine prominent figures of Hong Kong's 2014 Occupy Central pro-democracy movement were summoned by police to face criminal charges more than two years after the event, amid fears of a politicized "purge" aimed at discouraging further popular protests.
Just a day after Beijing's preferred candidate Carrie Lam was picked to fill the city's top job in July, the three initiators of the 79-day civil disobedience movement—professors Benny Tai and Chan Kin-man and reverend Chu Yiu-ming—were called in to Wanchai police station to face "public nuisance" charges.
Tai told a crowd of hundreds of supporters outside the police station, many of whom carried the yellow umbrellas that became an icon of the movement, that he had been prepared for the move.
"We haven't given up the fight for real universal suffrage," Tai said. "Neither have we given up on the spirit of peace and love and nonviolent resistance."
"No matter what happens, whether we are charged, arrested, whatever, we won't give up on those two things," he said.
Former student federation leaders Tommy Cheung and Eason Chung, former Democratic Party lawmaker Lee Wing-tat, League of Social Democrats vice-chairman Raphael Wong, and lawmakers Tanya Chan and Shiu Ka-chun also reported to police on Monday.
Raphael Wong called for unity among supporters of the various pro-democracy groups and politicians in Hong Kong.
"I predicted during the Umbrella movement that this day might come back," Wong said. "But here I am, and here are our supporters. Are we afraid of being locked up? No, we're not."
"I will be going in there [to the police station] without fear."
Meanwhile, barrister-turned-lawmaker Tanya Chan said a total of nine people had been called in to face "public nuisance" or "incitement to create a public nuisance" charges, which carry a maximum jail term of seven years, with initial hearings expected at the Eastern district court on Thursday,
She hit out at chief executive-elect Carrie Lam, who promised in her victory speech to heal divisions in Hong Kong society after the Occupy movement failed to deliver fully democratic elections in 2017.
"Those divisions were already running pretty deep," Chan said. "Now, to add to them, there has been a calculated decision to bring charges against a group of people today, the day after Carrie Lam was elected."
"I think that will make it even more difficult for Carrie Lam to implement her policies in future," she said.
Lam played down any suggestion of a link between her election win and the police charges.
"The work of charging people is carried out independently by the department of justice, and it is not for me to interfere with that independent work, whether I am a chief executive-elect, or even after I have taken office," she told reporters on Monday during a walkabout tour of the city.
Asked how she planned to heal divisions while going after former democracy protesters, Lam replied: "I don't think this is what's happening. Everybody knows that healing divisions doesn't entail undermining the rule of law."
But lawmaker Starry Lee, who chairs the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB), appeared to ignore the presumption of innocence, saying that "it is legitimate and reasonable that those who have broken the law should face criminal charges."
"I believe that everyone knows that Hong Kong has an independent judiciary, which has been protected as one of our core values," Lee said.
Earlier, Mabel Au, spokeswoman for Amnesty International in Hong Kong, said the renewed charges for former demonstrators are part of an ongoing attack on the city's traditional freedoms of speech and association, enshrined in a Sino-British agreement over the 1997 handover.
"This vindictiveness shows contempt for well-established freedoms in Hong Kong and will only lead to more political tensions," Au told the Hong Kong Free Press on Monday.
"The authorities have had years to consider these cases,” she said. “[This] raises serious questions as to whether political manoeuverings were a factor in the decision to bring charges now."
The Occupy Central, or Umbrella, Movement for fully democratic elections rejected Beijing's insistence that any move to universal suffrage in the city must include the vetting of candidates by its supporters, and called for "real universal suffrage."
At its height, hundreds of thousands of people poured onto the city's streets in protest, using umbrellas to protect themselves from sun, rain, and pepper spray, and giving the Umbrella Movement its nickname.
But the movement ended with no political victory, and amid accusations from the ruling Chinese Communist Party that the protests were being orchestrated by "hostile foreign forces" behind the scenes.
The fresh charges come after student leaders Joshua Wong, Nathan Law, and Alex Chow were found guilty of public order offenses last July for their role in the occupation of a cordoned-off public space at the start of the movement.
Wong and Chow were convicted of "unlawful assembly" after they climbed into the fenced-off area outside government headquarters on the night of Sept. 26, 2014, at the start of a 79-day civil disobedience campaign for universal suffrage.
They were handed suspended and community service sentences that were later challenged by prosecutors in the former British colony.
Following reports of intense, behind-the-scenes political pressure from the ruling Chinese Communist Party, prosecutors requested that the court jail the trio immediately, but their request was rejected.
Joshua Wong told RFA on Monday that the crackdown shows Lam is likely to take Hong Kong in a direction even more to Beijing's liking.
"I think that [President] Xi Jinping and Carrie Lam are both agreed in taking a hard line with Hong Kong," he said.
But he said that pro-democracy activists and politicians won't give up.
"This is an opportunity to wage an even greater campaign of resistance," he said.
Reported by Lam Kwok-lap for RFA's Cantonese Service and by Wang Siwei for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.