Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Activists Take Gov’t to Task in Court

January 8, 2015 Updated: January 9, 2015

Hong Kong pro-democracy activists who were in court Thursday for a criminal hearing ended up cross-examining the authorities.

29 activists, including prominent Umbrella Movement student leaders Joshua Wong and Lester Shum, were summoned to the High Court for a preliminary hearing on possible contempt charges because they had supposedly obstructed police and bailiffs from clearing a main protest camp in Mong Kok in November.

The justice department said they would pursue criminal contempt cases against 22 of the protesters, including Wong and Shum. No official charges were made because the justice department needed more time to collect “documentation.”

When the protesters were allowed to address the court, some shouted “I want true democracy,” a cry that their supporters in the public gallery echoed, according to Agence France-Presse.

Wong, 18, said that the government is trying to use legal means to put down the pro-democracy movement. The leader of student group Scholarism also accused the government of “wasting taxpayer’s money… to stop people from taking future action.”

Likewise, Shum, the deputy leader of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, said the government is “abusing legal proceedings” by using the court as a “political tool for suppression.”

Police made 955 Occupy-related arrests during the nearly three month long street occupation.

Post-occupation, police have apprehended dozens of “shoppers”—pro-democracy slogan-shouting, yellow umbrella-carrying protesters who occupy sidewalks using flash mob tactics—in the commercial neighborhood of Mong Kok.

And in two recent high-profile cases, police sought protection orders for a boy and a girl, both 14. This move sparked a huge public outcry because the minors would be separated from their parents if the protection orders are applied.

Meanwhile, both Wong and Shum have to report to police headquarters next week to “assist” with police investigations of the pro-democracy Occupy protests that broke out in the second half of 2014. 32 key protest figures have been called up, and 1,500 people could be prosecuted.

Police said in a statement that they would “continue to conduct a comprehensive investigation and collect evidence impartially, and do not rule out arrest action.”

The possible arrests have seen as an attempt by the authorities to keep the pro-democracy camp—which includes students and civil society leaders as well as pan-democrat lawmakers—out of a public consultation on democratic reform in the city.